Organization, Information and Learning Sciences ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 4-6-2017


The ongoing popularity and increased availability of online college courses and programs has attracted a greater diversity of students. Along with continued female-majority enrollment, increasing numbers of students of traditional college age and students from a variety of ethnicity groups are taking online courses. The prevailing guiding assumptions that have informed much of the online pedagogical and instructional practices have primarily come from theories of adult learning, particularly andragogy, which has been heavily criticized for not acknowledging student diversity. As online education becomes ever more established in higher education, it is vital to examine the diversity of contemporary student populations and their learning preferences.

This study investigated whether and how student characteristics influence students’ preferred ways of learning on (1) Ke and Chávez’s (2013) individuated-integrated Cultural Constructs of Teaching and Learning analysis model, (2) online interaction, synchronous vs. asynchronous, and (3) learning environment, online vs. face-to-face. The student characteristics studied were age, gender, ethnicity, class level, and prior experience.

This study expanded on Ke and Chávez’s qualitative work on cultural constructs in the following ways: (1) Development of a quantitative instrument to test their findings - Preferred Ways of Learning Survey (PWLS), (2) Examination of additional student characteristics (age, gender, class level, and prior experience), and (3) Addition of two research questions to examine whether and how student characteristics influenced online college students’ online interaction and learning environment preferences. The study researched 140 online students at the University of New Mexico in Fall 2014.

The explanatory sequential mixed methods approach chosen entailed quantitative data analysis based on descriptive statistics, factor analysis, and means comparisons, and qualitative data analysis that used coding, theme, and category identification. The results were then merged and compared. The quantitative results did not support Ke and Chávez’s findings. Rather than culture, age, gender, and class level were the primary student characteristics that influenced student preferences. Students’ cultural backgrounds in the current study were based on their self-selection into one or more ethnicity groups such as Hispanic, Native American, and White. Culture, or ethnicity, was statistically significant on one cultural construct, however, the quantitative results only partially supported Ke and Chávez’s findings. Statistically significant differences for gender were identified on the online interaction preference construct with higher asynchronous preference scores for female students. Statistically significant differences for prior online experience were identified on the learning environment preference construct with higher online preference scores for students who had completed four or more online classes. Student interviews provided greater insight on the overall results, but lacked full representation of the quantitative sample to adequately address all statistically significant group differences.

This study illustrates the importance of building an awareness of the changing student population in postsecondary online education. It provides insight into some intriguing learning preferences, and notes some beneficial ways to improve online instruction. Future researchers can use the findings as an impetus to delve more deeply into the learning preferences of contemporary online college students, and they can use the PWLS to identify these preferences. It is hoped that both the instrument and the results add to the literature on creating equitable learning environments that meet the needs of diverse learners, ultimately, to foster student satisfaction, success, and retention.

Degree Name

Organization, Information and Learning Sciences

Level of Degree


Department Name

Organization, Information & Learning Sciences

First Committee Member (Chair)

Charlotte N. Gunawardena

Second Committee Member

Patricia Boverie

Third Committee Member

Karl Benedict

Fourth Committee Member

Kim Cox




online learning preference, college students, culture, ethnicity, age, gender, prior experience

Document Type