At a time when educators in many countries are adopting digital technology in their classrooms, whether by choice or mandate, the question of what the experience of online learning is like for students remains open and of vital interest. In the present study, adult learners (N = 37) in Russia were asked to write an essay about their experience of an online course they had taken as part of their graduate studies. Responses were examined by means of thematic analysis. From the conceptual framework of self-determination theory, responses were categorized with respect to psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Adult learners reported their online courses provided the greatest opportunities to satisfy the need for autonomy, with ample support for competence as well; however, they struggled in their online courses to find satisfaction for the relatedness need. The present study identified those elements of online courses that correspond with and facilitate the satisfaction of each of the three basic psychological needs.
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