Interview Results From Long-Term Online Instructors: Perspectives, Experiences, and Lessons Learned

Concurrent Session 2
Streamed Session Blended Research

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Brief Abstract

This research presentation shares results from an interview-based study of 33 faculty with 10 or more years of online teaching experience. Faculty reported their motivations for teaching online, important skills for online instructors, advice for new online instructors, and discussed the future of online education.



Rebecca Arlene Thomas is currently the Postdoctoral Scholar of the Oregon State Ecampus Research Unit (ECRU). The ECRU conducts original research in online higher education, and promotes collaboration and research literacy in the field. Before working at Oregon State, Rebecca earned a master's degree in Instructional Psychology & Technology from Brigham Young University and PhD in Psychology from the University of Texas San Antonio. She enjoys conducting research about college student relationships and aggressive behavior in addition to her work in online education.

Extended Abstract


For many institutions of higher education, online learning is a new endeavor. There is still skepticism from faculty and higher education leaders about the quality of education that is received online. In a 2016 report on online learning by Allen, Seaman, Poulin, & Straut, they found that 28.6% of academic leaders “believe the learning outcomes for online education are inferior to those of face-to-face instruction” (p. 6). Moreover, the report noted that “only 29% of chief academic officers believe that their faculty accept the value and legitimacy of online education” (Allen, Seaman, Poulin, & Straut, 2016, p. 6). Although more than six million students currently take online courses (Seaman, Allen, Seaman, 2018), questions remain about whether and how to best educate students in distance settings. This uncertainty exits despite the widely cited research that demonstrates the equivalency of learning outcomes for online versus face-to-face modalities (see for example, Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K., 2010).

Despite the skepticism among their peers, there is a population of online instructors who have taught online for many years, and some have made online learning their career choice and area of expertise. Few colleges/universities have a substantial population of faculty who are long-term online instructors (teaching online for 10 years or more) and little research exists on their experiences. Some recent literature (see for example, Mansbach & Austin, 2018) explores the online faculty experience, but not those who have taught for several years in online environments.

This research presentation shares results of an interview-based study of 33 faculty who have taught online for 10 years or more at a large comprehensive R1 institution. Data were collected in two stages. First, participants filled out a pre-survey that asked for basic demographic information and some information about their online teaching history. The next stage included a series of three, one-hour virtual interviews in which instructors were asked to reflect on their experiences as an online educator and how their perspectives have changed over time. Interview questions sought to collect instructors' experiences in the following five areas:

  • how they got started with online teaching;
  • their teaching and course development practices;
  • the professional development they have completed related to online teaching;
  • their attitudes toward and beliefs about online teaching; and
  • their perceptions of how online education has changed over time.

The instructors in this study had taught online at their current institution for an average of 14 years, with one who had taught online for 31 years. The largest percentage (45%) of the instructors were in the 55-64 age range and 59% identified as female. The majority (67%) were full time faculty/instructors.


The presentation focuses on results of several analyses from this study. A qualitative analysis of the instructor responses to the following questions will be discussed: What has kept you teaching online?, What skills do you think are most valuable for online instructors to have?, What advice do you have for new online instructors, and What do you think is the future of online learning?


Each of the research questions were initially coded by a member of our research team. After initial coding and codebook generation for each question, a second member of the research team double-coded each of the responses. Then, the two researchers met together to discuss coding until they reached full agreement on the codebook and results.


What has kept you teaching online? Instructors cited several motivations for continuing to teach online for over ten years. Some of these motivations were specific to online education, while other motivations related to the motivation to teach, regardless of the medium. For example, instructors appreciated the diversity of online students, as well as the option to create their own schedules and work from anywhere with internet access. Instructors also expressed a general passion for their content areas, as well as passion for pedagogy and seeing students grow and succeed. Lastly, instructors expressed that they felt like they were making an impact by teaching online, as they were offering education to students of diverse backgrounds and opportunities.

What skills do you think are most valuable for online instructors to have? One of the most prominent skills long-term online instructors discussed was communication skills, both written and oral. Most of the instructors indicated that clear communication with students was central to effective online instruction. Another prominent skill suggested by these instructors was time management. Many of the long-term instructors discussed the complexities of time management specific teaching online courses. Other skills for instructors that will be discussed include: organization, flexibility, and creativity

What advice do you have for new online instructors? The experienced instructors in this study advised new online instructors to learn from others as they navigate teaching online. For example, they recommended meeting with current and experienced online instructors, as well as taking advantage of available resources and trainings. They also recommended utilizing the online medium in course design, communicating with online students frequently and regularly, considering the students’ perspective in course design and policy, and building an online community. Additionally, instructors recommended that those new to teaching online believe that they can teach effectively online, and that they focus on what they love about online teaching.

What do you think is the future of online learning? Most of the instructors in the sample predicted that online learning would continue to grow, and that online learning would increase access and accessibility to higher education. Additionally, instructors cited reasons that online learning could replace brick and mortar institutions, and also cited reasons why online learning should not replace brick and mortar institutions. Other common themes included the idea that online learning could facilitate modularized and disaggregated degree programs, increase collaboration between individuals around the world, and that online learning could be an important component as institutions consider how they can best fulfill their missions. 


This research provides insight into the experiences of long-term online instructors, provides advice for instructors who are just getting started with online teaching, and discusses what may be the future of online education. This research is relevant as an increasing number of faculty have been transitioning to online and remote teaching environments, and may continue in the future.

Discussion/Interpretation: Participants will be asked to reflect on the study results and consider their current role(s) at their institutions. In a live discussion, I will ask participants to share these thoughts, either verbally, or using the chat function.  

Other Information: Slides will be used throughout the presentation. Additionally, a handout that summarizes the study results will be provided for participants on the website.

Session Objectives

Participants will leave this session with:

1) an understanding of what motivated the instructors in the study to keep teaching online for over ten years

2) an awareness of important skills for teaching online

3) consideration of what the instructors in the study predicted for the future of online learning
4) useful information and advice about online teaching that can be applicable for participants in diverse roles and institutions

Allen, I. E., Seaman, J., Poulin, R., & Straut, T. T. (2016). Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group.

Mansbach, J. & Austin, A.E. (2018). Nuanced perspectives about online teaching: Mid-career and senior faculty voices reflecting on academic work in the digital age. Innovative Higher Education (published online 16 February 2018).

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K. (2010). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Seaman, J. E., Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2018). Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group.