Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Degree Name

Curriculum and Instruction

Department or School/College

School of Education

Committee Chair

Darrell Stolle

Commitee Members

Dave Beck, David Erickson, John Matt, Marian McKenna


ecological psychology, learning environments, Native American education, online learning, secondary students, virtual classrooms


University of Montana


The primary purpose of this grounded theory study was to shed light on the personal online learning experiences of Native American high school students in Montana. The overarching research question was: What are the conditions for college-bound Native American high school students that result in a successful adaptation to an online learning environment?

Eight Native American students attending high schools on the Flathead and Blackfeet Reservations, and one small urban city, were interviewed two separate times for approximately 45 minutes. All participants had passed online coursework with a grade of C or better, taken through Montana Digital Academy. One hundred and twelve pages of interview data were systematically coded. A theoretical model was created illustrating the successful adaptation of Native high school students to an online learning environment.

Within the framework of ecological psychology, findings showed a congruence of students' learning desires and needs and the online learning environment. In participants' local high schools, course offerings were limited. This resulted in boredom and lack of challenge. Students wanted new and interesting coursework and learning online met this need. They took the initiative to work at their own pace and ability levels, relearning or working ahead. They enjoyed the challenge, freedom, and independence that resulted from learning online. Those who frequently missed school were easily accommodated.

A student's orientation toward education, such as attitude toward learning and school, family influence, and past interactions with classroom teachers, affected the adaptation process. Participants felt empowered and had more positive expectations for their future as a result of learning online. This was caused by three factors: feelings of independence working without one-to-one personal contact from a classroom teacher, confidence gained when successfully completing assignments, and control felt from being in charge of their own learning.

The practical significance is three-fold: first, online learning experiences of Native American high school students are well documented; second, the findings benefit those who lack understanding of how Native American students adapt to an online environment; and finally, educators are better equipped to create supports that promote academic success for Native students.



© Copyright 2011 Collier Kaler