Campus Location

Dallas Campus (Online)

Date of Award

Winter 12-2018


Document Type



Organizational Leadership

Degree Name

Doctor of Education

Committee Chair or Primary Advisor

Leah Wickersham-Fish

Second Committee Member or Secondary Advisor

Jennifer Duffy

Third Committee Member or Committee Reader

Simone Elias


This study investigated how organizational structures influence leadership over online learning initiatives for dedicated instructional designers in higher education. A qualitative research method was used for within-case analyses for 3 individual universities and a comparative case analysis of all 3 studied institutions. Purposive sampling was used to identify each university that participated and operated within 1 of 3 organizational structure profiles. Data were collected through document analysis and semistructured interviews with participants in 3 key roles at each institution: dedicated instructional designer, online faculty member, and online learning administrator. The organizational structure that most positively influenced the ability for dedicated instructional designers to lead online learning initiatives was a centralized instructional design team with academic reporting lines. The results showed that decentralized dedicated instructional designers experienced significant disempowerment, role misperception, and challenges in advocacy and leadership, while dedicated instructional designers with administrative reporting lines experienced a high level of role misperception specifically related to technology support. Positional parity between dedicated instructional designers and faculty, in conjunction with implementation of the recommended organizational structure, was found to be critical to empowering designers to be partners and leaders. Several recommendations were produced: (a) instructional design teams should proportionally match the size of the university to ensure that they have time and opportunity to act as leaders in online learning initiatives, (b) dedicated instructional designers should participate or lead online program design initiatives, and (c) leaders of instructional design teams should have direct knowledge or experience with instructional design and online learning.

Keywords: instructional design, organizational structure, leadership, qualitative methods, higher education, online learning

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



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