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The psychosocial development experiences of adult learners enrolled in an online undergraduate degree program

Natalie A Lupton, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The purpose of this grounded theory study was to explore the process of psychosocial development experienced by adult students participating in an entirely online undergraduate degree program from a four-year, accredited, Title IV authorized, public university. Psychosocial development theory examines individuals' personal and interpersonal lives (Erikson, 1997). As online learning enrollments were phenomenally growing (NCES, 2006), online educational institutions were attempting to transfer traditional campus based student services to an online environment (Kretovics, 2003). However, it was unclear if these efforts assisted the psychosocial development of adult students who complete their degree program entirely online. The literature in student development, adult learning, and distance education did not address this issue. ^ Eighteen participants were interviewed using an online and telephone interview protocol. This study found that all participants experienced some level of psychosocial development during their online degree program. ^ This study presented the resulting grounded theory using a set of six propositions. The propositions were as follows: (1) The majority of undergraduate adult students, age 21 or older, entering an online four-year degree program with no-face-to face contact of any kind do not believe it is important to build friendships with peers, (2) interaction within the classroom environment has a greater impact on a student's psychosocial development than interaction within the larger community of students, (3) the student's interaction with members of the external social network has a greater impact on a student's interpersonal development than the interaction that occurs with academic peers, (4) cognitive development has the greatest impact on a student's psychosocial development, (5) there is a positive correlation between a student's level of knowledge acquisition and increased self-confidence, and (6) by focusing on creating learning communities rather than a larger community of students, student services will be more cost effective for educational institutions in meeting the needs of the students.^

Subject Area

Psychology, Developmental|Education, Technology of|Education, Higher

Recommended Citation

Lupton, Natalie A, "The psychosocial development experiences of adult learners enrolled in an online undergraduate degree program" (2007). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3255222.