Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Communication and Information



First Advisor

Dr. Brandi N. Frisby


At least one third of college students enrolled in a given year take at least one course that is 80%+ online delivery (Allen & Seaman, 2015). This number has increased from 10% of students just within the last decade. Given this increase, the need for instructional communication research in this context has also grown.

One construct that has had little attention in online settings is that of perceived instructor caring. Caring instructors are perceived as concerned, sensitive, not self-centered, and having students’ best interests at heart (McCroskey & Teven, 1999). Caring has the potential to impact various aspects of student success, but has seen limited application in online learning research. Self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985) uses the term relatedness, and assess the impact on motivation; however, this has also been applied very little in online settings.

Guided by self-determination theory, the purpose of this dissertation is to explore perceptions of instructor caring in online education environments, to compare student and faculty views of instructor caring, explore the measurement of mediated instructor caring, and to test a mediation model proposing that perceived instructor caring, autonomy, and competence impacts perceived cognitive learning with motivation and affect as mediators. To do this, the author conducted two mixed-methods studies to compare instructor and student perceptions of caring, validate the measurement of caring, and test the model. Findings seek to improve understanding of how these constructs operate in online learning contexts and to assess self-determination theory for use in online settings, as well as to guide future research in various contexts of instructional communication.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)