Degree Name

Doctor of Education


School of Education


This research explores the learning experiences of adults who are in full-time employment and their approach to postgraduate part-time study in the Australian education sector. Advances in technology provide flexible study opportunities for adults balancing online study demands with full-time employment. However, there is minimal literature specifically examining how adult learners who are in full-time employment prepare for their first postgraduate online learning experience; the learners themselves have not been questioned. The research reported in this thesis contributes to the body of knowledge addressing first-time postgraduate online parttime learners’ expectations and experiences of higher education. A sample of 63 first-time postgraduate online part-time learners participated in this research. The participants were studying an asynchronous online unit of study from one of six Business and Management disciplines in the School of Business at the participating Australian university. A sequential mixed-methods research approach was implemented to investigate first-time postgraduate online part-time learners’ preparedness and goal orientation in relation to the successful completion of their first postgraduate online unit of part-time study. Survey findings indicated that selfpredictions of completing a study plan prior to commencement were not supported by the post-study survey data. Interview data confirmed that those who had completed their unit of part-time study valued the flexibility of online learning and regarded online study as providing a competitive advantage when applying for promotion. However, the areas of concern this cohort highlighted included juggling family and work responsibilities while working full-time, as well as concerns about elements of online learning course design which impacted on their learning, such as technical issues, privacy, clarity in relation to discussion-board questions and Page ii timeliness of assignment feedback. Participants who withdrew from the online course reported that self-directed online part-time study did not suit their learning needs, citing preferences for immediate responses to their questions and for the social opportunities offered by on-campus study. These findings imply that self-directed learning is particularly challenging for many first-time part-time postgraduate online learners, when immediate academic support may be absent. The findings of this research recommend improving first-time postgraduate online part-time learners’ self-directedness strategies. This research contributes to finding a solution to improve first-time postgraduate online part-time learners’ experiences through the provision of recommendations emanating from each research question. The provision of recommendations also presents an opportunity for academic providers to review their current approach to online learning delivery.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.