School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy in Education (PhD)


Patricia Ferrin


foster care, foster child, foster youth, online education, virtual learning


Education | Online and Distance Education


The purpose of this transcendental phenomenological study was to describe the experiences of former foster students in online educational environments. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs acted as the theory guiding this study, as it was essential when investigating how unmet needs for foster children affected their motivation to learn and feelings of belongingness with their school. This study was designed to answer the following central research question: What are the experiences of former foster students who have taken part in online education? Using a transcendental phenomenological approach, I collected the lived experiences of the participants to uncover emerging themes during online learning while in foster care. A sample of 10 former foster students who experienced online education while in foster care and graduated from high school during the academic years 2021 or 2022 resulted in a participant age range of 18-21 years old. To facilitate triangulation, data collection included surveys, interviews, writing prompt documents, and focus groups. Data analysis followed Moustakas’ modification of the van Kaam method to horizontalize the data, cluster common experiences, and develop textural and structural descriptions of the essence of the phenomenon. The themes of engagement deficiency, inferior educational experiences, and feelings of uncertainty for high school foster students engaged in online learning also included feelings of loneliness, insecurity, and post-graduation apprehension. Foster students learning online shared negative experiences including lack of supports, ease of cheating, non-engagement, and feelings of isolation. Foster students, due to their transient nature, need targeted educational supports put in place when learning online to succeed with coursework, become college/career ready, and to engage with peers forming a sense of connection with their school community.