The goals of higher education often entail the development of students' character. Rarely, however, are these character development goals connected to the unique design and delivery of distance education programs. Additionally, the research literature that explores the character development aspects of distance education is sparse. Thus the purpose of this study is to contribute to the understanding of how character development may occur in a distance context. Taking a hermeneutic phenomenological approach, I examined instructor and student perceptions of character development in a fantasy literature independent study course. Findings indicate that students perceived development of traits and strengths in the following areas: moral character (moral desires, moral discernment, and moral courage); relational character (improved relationships, open-mindedness, the sharing of learning with others, and improved communication); spiritual character (humility, faith, hope, and charity); and performance character (self-discipline and self-directedness in learning, analytical and deep approach to learning, imagination and creativity, appreciation of literature, motivation to continue education, and self-confidence). Participants also perceived a variety of corresponding approaches, methods, factors, and influences for bringing about such character development, such as (a) the applicability of literary themes and character attributes and experiences to their lives; (b) the conversational nature of the instruction (an invitational and deep learning approach, preparation for reading and analyzing the literature, offering choices to enhance engagement and relevance, asking questions that promote analysis and personal connections with the literature, affording multiple opportunities to write, and providing timely, encouraging, and helpful feedback); (c) a trusting, respectful, and friendly relationship between the student and instructor (obtained through the instructional conversation and the instructor's personal and engaging writing style, personalizing contacts, being helpful and showing concern, and being sincere and honest); (d) the independent study context (flexibility in time and location and a more independent learning experience); and (e) the students' readiness and agency (choices, initiative, and effort). Students also perceived interrelationships among these elements. The study offers possible implications for character development in the context of distance education, as well as directions for future research.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Instructional Psychology and Technology



Date Submitted


Document Type





character, character education, moral education, distance education, qualitative research, hermeneutic phenomenology, literature, Christian fantasy, fantasy literature, independent study