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The last ten years has born witness to the rapid development and widespread offering of education at a distance. Even though distance education has been around since the 1970s, little attention has been given to how the structure of an online course influences students’ connections to the course or the instructor. Based on Michael G. Moore’s (1972) theory of transactional distance, this study examined one cluster of his theory—course structure. An extensive review of relevant literature revealed that there was a gap in research related to online course structure. In an effort to contribute to closing this gap, this study explored student experiences related to the structure of online Radiologic Science courses. A qualitative, phenomenological study of these experiences provided a base of knowledge from which conclusions could be drawn and suggestions made.
Twenty students in a fully online Radiologic Science baccalaureate program were interviewed and those interviews were analyzed for emergent themes. The major themes, design, environment, social, and transition help to define the elements of course structure that best serve students by increasing their feelings of connectedness and decreasing transactional distance.
The results of this study may be beneficial to online instructors and developers who are developing new or revising existing courses to better address the needs of their students. Structuring online courses so that students feel a strong sense of connectedness reduces transactional distance.