“Online learning” is a broad category used to describe a number of different approaches to instruction and learning using web-based technologies. While online learning is a relatively young field of study, three themes are evident in the reviewed literature, including the existence of general best practices for managing and teaching online, the importance of communication and relationship building in online learning environments, and the nature of motivational factors that influence student success in online classrooms. While existing research addresses both adult and K-12 learners, with some of these studies focusing on learners in rural places, studies specifically addressing online learning in rural Alaskan schools is extremely limited. The exponential growth of online learning in rural Alaska supports the urgency of further study of best practices in course design, implementation, communication strategies, and motivational supports for the unique student populations in rural areas of the state.
The purpose of this mixed methods study will be to understand students’ experiences as online learners in classes taken to supplement their programs of study in traditional face-to-face school settings and to extract implications for rural Alaskan high schools using online learning to broaden students’ educational experiences. My specific research question is this: What conditions result in successful online learning experiences for rural Alaskan students?