Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor

Dr. Joan Mazur


Students’ choice in enrolling in a distance learning environment was examined in a mixed methods study in the fall of 2020 during the COVID-19 national health emergency of that same year. After state mandated school closures in the spring 2020, students statewide were forced into a fully online learning situation until the end of that semester. In the fall, the district that was the study site offered families the choice of either hybrid or fully distance learning environments where students could attend school during the national health crisis that had persisted. That choice would be in force for the full semester, barring illness and need to follow public health guidelines. Adapting to this transformation of the new middle level learning environments, including issues such as access to the internet, availability of devices, and teachers to cover the classwork and assignment was a unique experience for schools. A new middle school, the Distance Learning Academy was launched for those choosing fully online instruction. Families of 447 seventh and eighth grade students chose to learn in a distance learning environment rather than the hybrid settings. Fifty-Four (54) of those students were surveyed and a subset were interviewed regarding their preferences and experiences in the online learning environment.

Results indicated that parents were the main decision makers in registering students for the distance learning setting. Findings also revealed students had a reliable internet connection at home; however, 56% of students did not have access to a device to learn in a distance learning environment. Students reported issues including frustration with feedback from teachers and some dissatisfaction with the experience. After 12-15 weeks in the distance learning setting, survey results indicate that 59% of students answered “neutral” or “not exciting at all” when asked if online learning was enjoyable. Learning experiences were varied among content areas. Mathematics proved to be a subject that students struggled to learn in distance learning preferring a traditional setting with a teacher. Positive aspects of the online learning environment included flexibility with schedules, re-doing missed or incorrect homework assignments, and completion of assignments at their own pace. The district will also retain the middle level online learning academy, but with program, modifications based on lessons learned. Implications of this study are useful to inform district policy and to provide guidance for parents in choosing the best educational environment.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)