Understanding the complex landscape of “research” in distance education

Concurrent Session 5

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Given the broad range of education research, marketing research, big data, assessment and evaluation available in the field of distance education, digesting various “findings” is becoming increasingly complex. In this discovery session, come share some of your experiences and challenges navigating “research” in distance education.


Dr. Katie Linder is an avid writer and researcher with a passion for process and peeking behind the scenes at what it takes to be a successful academic. Currently, Katie directs the Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit and serves as an associate editor for the International Journal for Academic Development. She is also the creator of the Radical Self-Trust Podcast Channel and the host of a weekly interview-based podcast called Research in Action. She writes a weekly essay series called The Academic Creative. Her most recent book is Managing Your Professional Identity Online: A Guide for Faculty, Staff, and Administrators.

Extended Abstract

Distance education is increasingly complex and multi-faceted. Research, broadly defined, is no exception. In fact, there are many terms today that are used in differing contexts in distance education that actually have scholarly definitions, prescribed methodologies, and established standards for rigor. There are also a series of assumptions in the research process that are potentially expected to be met by researchers, such as research transparency, observation of human behavior, objectivity and subjectivity, and standardization and replicability of a study. However, with the varying types of research and methods (e.g., education research, marketing research, web analytics, case studies, evaluation studies, and assessment), there is not always clarity in interpreting findings or claims.

Each of these efforts come with their own expectations for a number of key areas:

  • Whether or not they require explicit grounding in existing literature
  • Whether or not they assume that theoretical assumptions be made explicit
  • Whether they require biases and potential “conflicts of interests” to be removed, minimized, or made transparent
  • Whether they assume an internal focus to address an organization’s needs, an external focus to be dialoguing with a larger field, or some combination thereof

For this discovery session, come and talk with professionals who have both research and practice experience in the online learning domain. This session will offer an opportunity to explore various issues in distance education research related to key differences in the broad range of activities that are sometimes presented as “research.”  Although the session leaders do not to advocate for the superiority of any effort over another--each has its own purpose, methods, and ends—they do believe that the conflation of very different activities can lead to additional challenges for research in the field of distance education.