Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Agricultural and Extension Education and Evaluation

Document Type



To overcome the inherent complexities of planning and implementing effective online learning experiences at scale, it has been suggested that design-thinking tools and practices can be leveraged by faculty and collaborative support staff (e.g., instructional designers). However, little is known about what design-thinking approaches are perceived by faculty to be important to the online course design process, and what tools and practices might be prioritized or avoided given planning stage and individual context. Understanding these nuances would provide much needed insight to align support directly with faculty needs. This study used Q methodology to explore the subjective viewpoints of 20 faculty engaged in online course development regarding preferred design-thinking approaches for planning and implementing effective online learning experiences. Q factor analysis resulted in a three-factor solution indicating that three distinct views existed among the faculty participants. To interpret these views, Q factor data were triangulated with participants’ interview and demographic data, which illuminated three design-thinking personas: Pragmatic Designers, Critical Academic Designers, and Emergent Designers. Each persona viewed changes in student learning as an important design guide as well as the provision of application examples in practice. However, personas operationalized the design process differently, which revealed a predominant lens from which design decisions were made. Pragmatic Designers framed design-decisions in terms of utility and past experience, often referring to classroom experiences when considering the online environment. This persona was open to experimenting with course design if the case could be made that it might improve student learning. Critical Academic Designers were creatively confident and preferred an unstructured design process that relied mostly on past experience and carefully curated sources to intuitively shape the learning experience. Emergent Designers embodied a maturing design process that aimed to meet current expectations of administration, students, and others while aspiring to make design improvements over time. The study concludes that tenure status and online experience appear to distinguish personas, indicating that professional context and prior knowledge of the online environment may influence design-thinking approaches. Implications for scaling online course design and development are discussed along with relevant recommendations for practice for instructional design teams supporting faculty.



Committee Chair

Roberts, F. Richard