The implications of broadband Internet on online adult and community learning

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Atkinson, John K.
Armstrong, Joseph L.
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Thesis (D. Ed.)
Department of Educational Studies
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The purpose of this study was to establish a deeper understanding of the educational needs of rural-based learners within the context of online learning opportunities. I hoped to ascertain whether rural learners' needs differ in terms of learning choices from that of their urban counterparts. This study was particularly focused on establishing a baseline for understanding community online readiness and identifying factors for how rural adults decide whether to participate in online-based learning.The participants in this study were selected from adults in established adult education courses, local churches, rural development clubs, and miscellaneous other civic organizations. Each participant was asked to complete a questionnaire that was a modified McVay Online Readiness Questionnaire (McVay, 2000). In addition, 4 local community leaders were selected for interviews. The selected interviewees were the County Judge-Executive, the mayor of the county seat, the Superintendent of Schools, and the director of adult and community education for the county. These leaders were asked questions designed to assess their understanding of current technological infrastructure to support broadband Internet, as well as, their willingness to encourage the support required for community transformation. Interview questions focused on how well leaders understand both the technological and the sociocultural dimensions of their community.The results were the identification of 7 interrelated themes that help explain the online readiness behaviors of rural adults in the selected county. The themes are: the Importance of Broadband Internet, the Attraction of Professionals to the Area, the "Missing Generation," Common Solutions and Working Together, Lack of Vision for Online Learning, Changing Cultures and Demographics, State and Local Government's Role and Regulatory Policy. Questionnaire responses are presented in this study as descriptive statistics and are representative of the county studied. The data collected from these questionnaires were used in collaboration with interview findings to arrive at conclusions. Key recommendations include: provisions for tax credits and other financial incentives to encourage Internet providers to increase coverage into rural areas; and improved collaboration between public and private stakeholders in an effort to address the digital divide.