Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




James P. Barber

Committee Member

David M. Long

Committee Member

Eugene A. Roche


The market for online education is competitive, especially for graduate programs such as the Master of Business Administration (MBA). Attrition rates vary widely, and educators must understand the needs of online students and create engaging quality programs to be competitive. Social interaction and student connectedness are particularly important in online MBA programs where one of the expected benefits is the opportunity for students to build strong professional networks. This mixed methods study explores the student interactions, connectedness, and retention in the Online MBA Program at William & Mary. While previous research has explored building community in an online educational environment, a gap remains in the literature regarding the quality and type of student connections in a part-time online graduate program tailored to working professionals. In addition to surveying faculty who taught in the program, I attempted to survey all students of the program and used the results of the Online Student Connectedness Survey (Bolliger & Inan, 2012) to inform the student participant selection process for the qualitative case study. Rooted in the social constructivist paradigm, I created the Online Student Connectedness conceptual framework and sought to determine the extent to which students and alumni of the program felt connected. I also wanted to determine what the students’ experiences of connectedness were and the quality of those connections. The results of the quantitative survey revealed a moderately high perception of connectedness among students in the program. The results of the qualitative data indicated that several factors influenced the students’ experiences of connectedness. In addition to carefully planned collaborative and group work, a feeling of comfort and perception of community were key factors. Managing students’ expectations, support from others, and connection to the institution contributed positively to the high retention rate enjoyed by the program. The results of the study offer a number of implications for practice that may be beneficial to program administrators, professors, course developers, instructional designers, and to students. Through appropriate application of social constructivist theory and adult learning theory, educators can create learning activities that promote student connectedness and thereby, increase student satisfaction and retention rates.




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