Transitional experiences of undergraduate and graduate students new to online learning: a cross-case analysis




Chapman, Kandace Michelle


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Online learning in public schools and higher education continues to grow exponentially; however, little is known as to whether students are ready for a virtual learning environment (Larreamendy-Joerns & Leinhardt, 2006). The purpose of this qualitative cross-case research study was to explore the transitional experiences of college students at undergraduate and graduate levels when introduced to an online learning environment for the first time. Using Schlossberg’s Transition Theory, the researcher explored how four college students in South Texas experienced an online learning environment for the first time. The researcher used purposeful sampling that included two first year college students and two first year graduate students who had not taken an online course. Findings suggest the participants underwent a transition within and across the four elements of the transition theory: self, support, situation, and strategies. Different strategies and different levels of support were utilized as each transitioned from a traditional classroom environment to an online learning environment. Findings indicate that regardless of certain background experiences, each participant emerged from the transition as a new self who is more self-aware and prepared to handle challenges encountered in online and face-to-face classroom environments.
The study has implications for various stakeholders connected to online learning. The findings suggest that K-12 educators, working in traditional classroom settings may want to find ways to incorporate independent work that allows students to adjust more easily to the online learning environment where self-sufficiency is fundamental. Professors teaching online college courses need to be aware of the significance of high level of support needed for online students to maintain a successful transition into the online learning environment. Higher education administrators should consider the option of having college students take online courses early in their collegiate career to strengthen their self-sufficiency with the hope of increasing overall retention.


A dissertation submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of DOCTOR of EDUCATION in EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in Corpus Christi, Texas.


higher education, k 12, online learning, transition theory



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