Understanding the Lived Experience of Online Learners: Towards a Framework for Phenomenological Research on Distance Education

Jonathan Becker, Michael Schad


Not all instructors in higher education enter the classroom with teaching experience, but all have observed teaching in higher education from the perspective of a student. This “apprenticeship of observation” that Lortie (1975) wrote about decades ago at least gives instructors the opportunity to empathize with their students, an important disposition for successful instructors. As more and more instructors are being asked to teach via distance education, they are being asked to do so with no online teaching experience and no or limited experience as an online student. One way, then, for them to develop empathy for online students and become a better online instructor would be to read systematic explications of the lived experiences of online learners. Phenomenology as a research design is purposeful towards gaining an understanding of “lifeworlds.” There is a small but growing body of phenomenological research on distance education, but most of the work is thin, not consistent with core principles of phenomenological research, and not tailored to the uniqueness of the distance education environment. This article makes the case for more phenomenological research on distance education and works towards a framework for this kind of research.


distance education, online learning, phenomenology, qualitative, research methods

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v26i2.2642

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