School of Education


Doctor of Education in Curriculum & Instruction (EdD)


Lucinda Spaulding


Autonomy, Competence, Distance Education, Motivation, Persistence, Relatedness


Education | Higher Education | Online and Distance Education


This transcendental phenomenological study examined military veterans’ motivational experiences who persisted to complete distance education (DE) doctoral programs in the United States. The theory guiding the research was self-determination theory (SDT), a theory of human motivation, development, and wellness that frames how motivation influences behavior, in this case, persistence. Various data sources (demographics questionnaire, timeline, advice letter, and semi-structured interview) triangulated a snowball sample of nine participants’ (six males and three females) motivational experiences. The SDT framework guided the answer to and informed the analysis of the central research question providing three theoretical constructs: (a) autonomy, (b) competence, and c) relatedness. After repeated data analyses, five textural themes emerged demonstrating what the participants experienced concerning this study’s central phenomenon—motivation to persist: (a) a support system, (b) obstacles, (c) goal accomplishment, (d) a new culture, and (e) flexibility and autonomy of the DE structure and program type. Six structural themes emerged demonstrating how the participants experienced this study’s central phenomenon: (a) engaging a support system, (b) overcoming obstacles, (c) goal setting and accomplishment, (d) navigating the DE dissertation process, (e) using military experiences to determine the dissertation topic, and (f) discovering and pursuing passion. With military veteran students’ increasing participation in higher education and in DE, and with a concern for attrition rates in doctoral programs and DE, this study contributes to theoretical and empirical literature and assists administrators and educators of DE doctoral programs in determining support strategies for this population.