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The Use of Learning Contracts to Promote Student Success in Online Doctoral Programs

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Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration Volume 18, Number 3, ISSN 1556-3847


This quantitative study provides evidence of the benefits of learning contracts in online higher education. In this study, data were gathered from doctoral students who had completed all course work and comprehensive exams, but failed to make expected progress on dissertation. The students were given the opportunity to participate in a voluntary program requiring the execution of a learning contract. This program allowed students to work directly with a dissertation chair for four hours per week over the duration of a year. Students were expected to complete their dissertation within that year or risk dismissal. The purpose of this study was to evaluate rates of milestone completion, rates of student program completion, and student perceptions of the learning contract as a factor influencing their success. Results show on average, students completed the dissertation in 316 days and at the time of publication, 62% of participants had graduated from their doctoral program. Further, students believed learning contracts were helpful to their overall success in their doctoral program. These results are encouraging for institutions wishing to increase graduation rates, improve time to completion, and provide students with strategies for doctoral program success. Recommendations for further study include an exploration of learning contracts in traditional university settings to determine if findings are generalizable.


Shaw, M., Blyler, D., Bradley, J., Burrus, S. & Rodriguez, R. (2015). The Use of Learning Contracts to Promote Student Success in Online Doctoral Programs. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 18(3),. Retrieved June 8, 2023 from .

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