Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Adult and Lifelong Learning (EdD)

Degree Level



Rehabilitation, Human Resources and Communication Disorders


Kevin M. Roessger

Committee Member

Kacirek, Kit

Second Committee Member

Hevel, Michael


adult learning, new student orientation, online learning, self-directed learning


Abstract Understanding and navigating college rules, resources, and expectations is a considerable barrier for students accessing and transitioning to college (Conley, 2007; Williams, 1996; Hooker & Brand, 2010; Ardoin, 2013; Sheppard, 2012). To improve students’ acquisition of pertinent, time-sensitive information, many institutions have implemented mandatory new student orientations (NSO). Orientations provide information such as academic policies and procedures, institutional expectations, campus resources, and financial aid assistance. They also allow students to meet faculty, staff, and other new students. By providing these resources, institutions acclimate students to their new environment. Although colleges realize that new student orientations support students’ success, they also acknowledge many students face barriers that prevent them from attending (Barker, 2015). These students are often older, nontraditional students who balance multiple responsibilities (Choy, 2002; Ross-Gordon, 2011). To accommodate these students, some colleges are implementing new methods and programs with flexible modalities (e.g., online or hybrid). Still, some institutions hesitate, citing concerns related to accessibility and students’ lack of attention, participation, and sense of community (Bergdahl, 2022; Morris & Ogan, 1996). Researchers, however, have argued that such concerns overlook the self-directedness and independence of the learner: “independent learners are capable of acquiring knowledge anytime, in any place, through any means” (Levy, 2017, p. 258). Independent learners, they argue, have a storied place in the history of adult learning, dating back to early Greek philosophers, like Socrates, and early inventors, like Thomas Jefferson. Independent learners are usually self-taught and tend to be self-directed (Candy, 2009; Knowles, 1975). According to Knowles’ Self-Directed Learning Theory (SDL), students who are self-directed prefer to manage their own learning, with or without the help of others. A principal assumption is that as adults mature (i.e., age), they develop a more self-directed learning identity. To cater to self-directed students and accommodate those unable to attend on campus, online new student orientations are becoming increasingly popular, especially at community colleges (Jaggars et al., 2013; Deschacht & Goeman, 2015; Kilburn, 2016). Chan (2017) found that 20 percent of community colleges now opening “recognize the necessity and urgency of utilizing technologies to positively impact core service operations, including new student orientation sessions” (p. 24). This study will investigate if theoretical claims explaining adults’ self-direction manifest in their choices to attend new student orientations. Specifically, it will determine if students’ ages can predict their choice to complete online new student orientations rather than in-person orientations, after controlling for work, family, and distance from campus, as well as self-directed readiness.