Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Teaching, Learning, and Technology

First Adviser

Hammond, Thomas

Other advisers/committee members

Bishop, MJ.; Cates, Ward; Kong, Peggy


Distance education has become an integrated part of higher education, and online learning communities (OLCs) show promises to promote learning in distance education. However, many issues regarding OLCs remain unclear in literature: OLC is not well defined, its key elements are not identified, and its relationship with learning has not been fully explored. In order to build a systematic understanding of OLCs for supporting distance learning, this dissertation reviewed the existing literature to develop a conceptual model of OLCs that identified OLC's key elements and the interactions among these elements. After identification of such elements, the study tested this model by developing and validating an instrument to measure community, an OLC element. The validation process of the instrument revealed community to have four factors: student-student interaction, student-instructor interaction, perceived benevolence of others, and relationships. With the instrument, the dissertation then explored the relationships between community and learning in online courses of different interaction patterns, which serves as an early step to understand how communities and OLCs affect learning in different online learning contexts.

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