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Doctoral student attrition is a major problem in higher education. This qualitative study sought to understand student beliefs and perceived confidence levels in a primarily online professional doctoral degree in education. Before accessing course material and formal instruction, respondents assigned scores to a Likert-style survey and answered open-ended questions about their understanding of basic educational research methodology. The rise of distance education follows the rapid growth of technological advancement. Yet, much is still unknown about pedagogical practices that contribute to improved learning outcomes for students in the virtual environment. Themes that emerged from this study suggest that (1) student expectations do not align with prior preparation, (2) student beliefs about scholarly work lack depth, and (3) students exhibit high anxiety regarding doctoral instruction.

Publication Date



Journal of Research Initiatives


Fayetteville , North Carolina


Key terms: doctoral student persistence, online learning, virtual experience, doctoral student persistence, critically-reflective teaching


Education Doctorate


Adult and Continuing Education | Education | Educational Methods | Higher Education | Online and Distance Education | Scholarship of Teaching and Learning


The Journal of Research Initiatives is published by Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville, North Carolina.

The articles published in the Journal of Research Initiatives are licensed under CC BY a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Doctoral Student Online Learning: Addressing Challenges of the Virtual Experience



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