Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Education Theory and Practice

Content Description

1 online resource (xi, 278 pages) : illustrations (some color)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Alandeon W Oliveira

Committee Members

Jason C Vickers, Reza Feyzi Behnagh


adult learner, collaboration, distance education, epistemic trust, online learning, trust building, Education, Higher, Teacher-student relationships, College teaching, Teacher effectiveness, Trust, Communication in higher education

Subject Categories

Adult and Continuing Education | Curriculum and Instruction | Higher Education


The purpose of this study was to explore the online instructor’s role in building epistemic trusting relationships with adult learners in their online classrooms. A mixed-method phenomenology research (MMPR) approach was used to discover if certain instructor actions influenced an epistemic trust relationship to develop between the instructor and the adult learner. This study examined the instructor’s classroom management actions, communication immediacy actions, and regulatory actions, as well as the level of epistemic trust in 48 fully online courses, focusing on 4 exemplar cases for cross-case analysis. It was determined that the instructor’s classroom management actions and communication immediacy actions explained 52% of the variation in epistemic trust. The instructor’s regularity actions played a lesser role by initializing early trust (a shallower trust than epistemic trust), a necessary foundation on which to build epistemic trust relationships. The regulatory actions also provided support for the other two types of instructor actions by creating a sense of the instructor’s fairness and availability. The study advanced a causation network that made visible a path from early trust of the instructor to an epistemic trust relationship with the instructor. These results suggest that instructors that practice these three types of actions in the online classroom have the potential to influence epistemic trust relationships with the adult learners, thereby improving learner motivation, cooperation, critical thinking, satisfaction, and academic performance. The findings presented in this study provide a possible epistemic trust model that may contribute to future research for developing a theory of epistemic trust.