online high school, virtual high school, distance education, secondary education, online learning;


Current research indicates that distance education courses can be as effective as traditional courses when the method and technologies used are appropriate to the instructional tasks. The number of states, counties, and school districts that provide online courses for high school students has rapidly expanded during the last ten years. The number of students, who enroll in these courses, has often grown by double digits each year. Understanding K-12 students' experiences in, and expectations of, online learning is important for many reasons. Online learning is certainly growing and may become a graduation requirement in more states. Currently Michigan requires every student must participate in some form of online learning as a high school graduation requirement. High school students enrolling in online courses may have a measurable influence on higher education courses in the future, as students become more experienced with online learning. A great deal has been written about the development of virtual high schools, some of the issues surrounding them and basic student demographics. There are only a few studies that have interviewed students in detail as to why they have chosen to participate in a virtual school and examined how this choice has impacted them. The purpose of this study was to describe from the student's perspective, why they had enrolled in online courses and allowed them to characterize their experiences. Further, this study sought to identify the personality types and traits of the students enrolled in online high school courses and reported on one measure of the student's cognitive style or cognitive tempo. Forty-three students who were enrolled in a state sponsored virtual high school participated in this study. The study used three online instruments to collect data. The Matching Familiar Figures Test-20 was used to measure the impulsive or reflective responses of the students. The Long-Dziuban Reactive Behavioral Survey was used to determine the students' personality types. The third instrument was an online questionnaire of open-ended questions asking the students about their online experiences. In addition, twelve students participated in follow-up interviews. The study found that the students enrolled in online courses for a variety of reasons; students were concerned about and wanted control over the timing and pacing of their learning. Students' comments suggested that there may be a relationship between cognitive tempo as classified by the MFFT-20, and the students' preference for pacing through the online course materials. In addition, the distribution of personality types and cognitive styles represented in this sample were different from the general school population suggesting that perhaps some students are more interested in online learning than others are. After reviewing the results of the students responses to the MFFT-20, it may be that students may are becoming faster at processing visual information with fewer errors. More research is needed in this area. There does seem to be a trend in this direction and this could have implications for students enrolled in virtual high school courses. Finally, the students in this study characterized their online learning experiences as positive but did not feel that online learning should be a high school graduation requirement for all students.


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Graduation Date





Gunter, Glenda


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Education


Educational Research, Technology, and Leadership

Degree Program









Release Date

May 2007

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)

Included in

Education Commons