Date of Award

Spring 4-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Dr. Susan Isenberg

Second Advisor

Dr. Stephen Sherblom

Third Advisor

Dr. Jan Munro


This study explored the learning experiences of higher education students who suffered childhood trauma (CT). Eleven participants both undergraduate and graduate who attended a Midwestern university self-identified as CT survivors. There was research on the negative impact of CT on learning in children and adolescents, as well as posttraumatic stress and veterans. However, the PI was unable to find research on the impact of CT on adults in higher education. Higher education institutions and professors may benefit from understanding how to help these students who often have an invisible learning disability. Research questions asked, what is the learning experience of higher education CT survivors, what can be learned that could help other CT survivors in higher education, and what do they need to be successful. Multiple case studies was the qualitative method used to explore the participants’ learning experiences. Instrumentation included an Adverse Childhood Experience study (ACEs) questionnaire with self-scoring guide, 14 initial interview questions, structured ongoing journaling entries, and exit interviews. Data analysis resulted in nine emerging themes: challenging, learning strategies, anxiety, fear, time management, support groups, determined, personal character traits, and adult learning principles. Four themes described the participants'’ negative learning experiences—challenging, anxiety, time management issues, and fear. Two described the positive—determined, and personal character traits (e.g., resilient, confident). One described techniques they use to help them be successful—learning strategies (e.g., [all said] face-to-face learning). And, two described what they need from professors and higher education—support groups (that include professors) and application of adult v learning principles—attend to the characteristics of adult learners (e.g., self-directedness, immediate application to solve real-life problems), and use a learning process by which adults learn best (e.g., prepare the learner so as to avoid emotional trigger experiences, shift from subject- to performance-centeredness). The salient finding was that CT survivors in higher education are the same as any adult learner, but may benefit from an informed level of sensitivity to their learning needs. Allowing new students to self identify as CT survivors and the general application of adult learning principles may allow all higher education learners to be successful.


Copyright 2018