Distance learning has provided solutions for students for more than a century. Students access distance learning due to issues with access, credit recovery need, or need for flexibility in location, time, pace, or duration of instruction. Recent advances in technology and instructional designs allow more interactive and synchronous instruction. Researchers suggest that designs using collaborative-constructivist approaches result in deeper learning and increased student satisfaction. Such courses implement theories based on interactions, creation of communities, and learner-centered design. The increase in online curriculum offered and, in some cases, required for K-12 students indicates a need to consider learning characteristics of adolescent learners. Adolescent learners are not as self-regulated, metacognitive, and technologically capable as adult learners. Communities and interactions require the involvement of parents or other involved adults to encourage learner engagement. New theories are emerging concerning learning engagement by adolescents including the adolescent community of engagement (ACE) framework. This dissertation reports two studies of K-12 online students enrolled in independent study courses. The researcher applied the elements of the ACE framework as a lens to study independent study students' experiences with a local community of support. Could students benefit from the curation and support of a proximate community of engagement (PCE)? The first study found that students perceive that a PCE would be helpful to learning when they enroll. The second study found that students completing a course organically accessed a PCE during their course experience, even without coaching and curation activities. Credit recovery students were more likely to perceive value in a PCE but actually created and used such a community at the same level as other learners. Parents and teachers were most often identified as the local support students would, and did engage. Future research was suggested to identify ways to encourage PCE curation, the most effective and supportive PCE interactions, and best practices to train and support members of the PCE.



College and Department

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



Date Submitted


Document Type





independent study, adolescent, online courses, online community, adolescent, community of engagement, proximate community of engagement