Date of Award

January 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education, Health & Behavior Studies

First Advisor

Virginia Clinton-Lisell


As the popularity of online learning continues to grow, so do concerns about online student success. This study aims to contribute to the continuous improvement of online learning and improve outcomes for a distinct group of online learners. Utilizing social presence, the expectancy-value theory of motivation, and capitalizing on innovative technologies, I advance a new framework that expands online discussions for emerging online learners, undergraduates enrolled in online and on-campus courses, and the predominant consumer of online courses. The emerging online learners in this study were also prospective teachers (n=80) enrolled in a teacher preparation course at a small midwestern liberal arts college. The teacher candidates participated in two different online discussions using multimodal asynchronous and synchronous technologies and then completed a questionnaire with both Likert scale and open-ended items about their experiences. The results validate this novel framework for this group of teacher candidates and demonstrate (1) both types of discussions tend to support social presence, (2) outside of the factor of convenience; students value synchronous discussions over asynchronous discussions for the connection with peers that supports their learning, and (3) there are positive associations between social presence and values. The recommendations I share call for teacher educators to use a blended model of online discussion design that includes both asynchronous and synchronous opportunities. While the results of this study may not be generalizable in the traditional sense, they do have implications for the design of online discussions in other fields.