Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Doctor of Education in Educational Technology


Educational Technology

Major Advisor

Patrick Lowenthal, Ph.D.


Chareen Snelson, Ed.D


Jesús Trespalacios, Ph.D.


The growth of online learning has expanded the reach of higher education to more diverse students than ever before; however, students often face barriers to equitable access to online instructional materials, course activities, and assessments. The challenge of meeting the needs of diverse learners was both highlighted and exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid shift to remote teaching and learning at many institutions. Disabled students were one group that was particularly affected. Research has explored faculty and students’ (with and without disabilities) perceptions of online learning; however, less is known about instructional designers’ and their team leaders’ roles and perceptions of inclusive online course design. We posit that instructional designers are well-positioned to lead the charge in designing accessible and inclusive online courses that will better serve disabled students. Thus, this article-based dissertation presents three studies focused on accessible and inclusive online learning. Chapter one will introduce the research space and elaborate on the issues of accessible and inclusive online course design in higher education and the role that instructional designers and their team leaders play. Chapter two will present a literature review on accessible and inclusive online course design in higher education. The themes and gaps that emerged from the literature review led to the proposal of two qualitative studies. Chapter three is a qualitative exploration of online learning leaders’ (i.e., those who lead teams of instructional designers) perceptions of accessible and inclusive online learning. Leaders provided insight into the institutional and systemic barriers impacting instructional designers’ ability to collaborate in the creation of accessible and inclusive online learning experiences. Chapter four is a qualitative study focusing on instructional designers’ experiences, perceptions, and knowledge and skills related to accessible and inclusive online course design. These studies, when taken together, are intended to fill the gap in the literature about instructional design teams’ current and potential role in ensuring that diverse learners can effectively access, participate, and feel a sense of belonging in online higher education. Chapter five provides a synthesis of the findings from the three studies, explores the scholarly significance, and presents areas for future research.