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Soldier-students: a phenomenological study of the experiences of service members taking online courses while deployed in combat




Parks, Tracy A., author
Folkestad, James, advisor
Davies, Timothy G., committee member
Strathe, Marlene, committee member
Grigg, Neil S., committee member

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The purpose of this study was to describe the phenomenon of United States Service Members (SM) who took online college courses while deployed in combat zones. Prior to this, only two phenomenological studies had identified soldier-students as their focus. This study sought to more formally understand the experiences and implications of SM as soldier-students. The study examined how SM experiences and/or SM educational goals were affected across three categories of environmentally influenced variables, and explored what the military and higher education institutions could do to improve quality of life for SM. Nineteen participants from the Army, Air Force and Navy were interviewed about their experiences of matriculating online while being deployed. Overall, the results show that solider-students were resilient in both their missions and educational pursuits. Primarily, the combat environment played a crucial role in the phenomenon, while the participant’s general higher education experiences and their course-specific experiences added additional qualities to the phenomenon. Finally, this qualitative research presents the participants’ own perspectives: how they benefited, how it reduced their stress, how kept them grounded in a larger reality, and why they would recommend for others to take classes during their deployments. Significantly, the participants showed a great desire to learn and to be supported by the military and higher education. The findings of this research demonstrate that solider-students are resilient in their missions and education equally, yet this resiliency must be better understood and further developed towards meeting the needs of SM, the military and universities.


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online classes
adult learning
military students


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