Online Instructor Transformational Leadership and Student Engagement in Higher Education: A Literature Review

Jiabing YIN


Transformational leadership offers a new theoretical framework to examine the correlation between online instructors and student engagement, a crucial indicator of students’ academic performance. This literature review sought to provide an updated picture of instructor transformational leadership and its impact upon student engagement in the context of higher education online courses in order that its readers can be informed of the relevant prior studies so far, which hopefully can inspire future research efforts regarding the topic in question. This review also justifies further investigation into the correlation between online instructor transformational leadership and student engagement.


Instructor transformational leadership; Student engagement; Higher education; Online courses

Full Text:



Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2015). Grade level: Tracking online education in the United States. Retrieved from Rabson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, LLC website:

Allen, I. E., Seaman, J., Poulin, R., & Straut, T. T. (2016). 2015 Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States. The Sloan Consortium, January.

Álvarez, O., Castillo, I., Molina-García, V., & Balague, G. (2016). Transformational leadership on the athletic field: An international review. Revista de psicología del deporte, 25(2), 319-326.

Anderson, T., Rourke, L., Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferencing context. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5(2), 1-17.

Antonakis, J., Avolio, B. J., & Sivasubramaniam, N. (2003). Context and leadership: An examination of the nine-factor full-range leadership theory using the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire. Leadership Quarterly, 14, 261-295.

Balwant, P. T. (2016). Transformational instructor-leadership in higher education teaching: A meta-analytic review and research agenda. Journal of Leadership Studies, 9(4), 20-42. doi: 10.1002/jls.21423

Balwant, P. T., Birdi, K., Stephan, U., & Topakas, A. (2018). Transformational instructor-leadership and academic performance: A moderated mediation model of student engagement and structural distance. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 1-17. doi:10.1080/0309877x.2017.1420149

Baran, E., Correia, A. -P., & Thompson, A. (2011). Transforming online teaching practice: Critical analysis of the literature on the roles and competencies of online teachers. Distance Education, 32(3), 421-439.

Bass, B. M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: Free Press.

Bass, B. M. (1998). Transformational leadership development: industry, military, and educational impact. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Bass, B. M., & Avolio, B. J. (1993). Transformational leadership: A response to critiques. In M. M. Chemers & R. Ayman (Eds.), Leadership theory and research: Perspectives and directions (pp. 49-80). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational leadership (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Bernard, R. M., Borokhovski, E., Schmid, R. F., Tamim, R. M., & Abrami, P. C. (2014). A meta-analysis of blended learning and technology use in higher education: from the general to the applied. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 26(1), 87-122. doi:10.1007/s12528-013-9077-3

Best Colleges. (2017). 2017 Online Education Trends Report. Retrieved from

Bigatel, P. M., Ragan, L. C., Kenan, S., May, J., & Redmond, B. F. (2012). The identification of competencies for online teaching success. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(1), 59-77.

Boberg, J. E., & Bourgeois, S. J. (2016). The effects of integrated transformational leadership on achievement. Journal of Educational Administration, 54(3), 357-374. doi:10.1108/jea-07-2014-0086

Bogler, R., Capsi, A., & Roccas, S. (2013). Transformational and passive leadership: An initial investigation of university instructors as leaders in a virtual learning environment. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 1-21. doi: 10.1177/1741143212474805

Bolkan, S., & Goodboy, A. K. (2009). Transformational leadership in the classroom: Fostering student learning, student participation, and teacher credibility. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 36(4).

Bolkan, S., & Goodboy, A. K. (2011). Behavioral indicators of transformational leadership in the college classroom. Qualitative Research Reports in Communication, 12(1), 10-18.

Bowers, J., & Kumar, P. (2015). Students’ perceptions of teaching and social presence: A comparative analysis of face-to-face and online learning environments. International Journal of Web-Based Learning and Teaching Technologies (IJWLTT), 10(1), 27-44.

Bryman, A. (1992). Charisma and leadership in organizations. London: Sage.

Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row.

Butler, A. M. (2017). Transformational leadership in online education: Cyber charter school teachers’ perceptions of their administrators’ leadership (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database.

Bush, T. (2007). Educational leadership and management: Theory, policy, and practice. South African Journal of Education, 27(3), 391-406.

Bush, T. (2014). Instructional and transformational leadership: alternative and complementary models? Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 42(4), 443-444. doi:10.1177/1741143214526830

Chang, W. L., & Lee, C. Y. (2013). Virtual team e-leadership: The effects of leadership style and conflict management mode on the online learning performance of students in a business-planning course. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(6), 986-999. doi: 10.1111/bjet.12037

Chen, P. D., Boenink, A. D., & Guidry, K. R. (2010). Engaging online learners: The impact of Web-based learning technology on college student engagement. Computers & Education, 54(4), 1222-1232.

Cho, M. H., & Tobias, S. (2016). Should instructors require discussion in online courses? Effects of online discussion on community of inquiry, learner time, satisfaction, and achievement. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 17(2), 123-140.

Collis, B., & Nijhuis, G.G. (2000). The instructor as manager: Time and task. The Internet and Higher Education, 3, 75-97.

Coppola, N. (1997). Sage on stage or mentor in MUD: Changing roles for teachers of technical communication. INTERCOM, 44(1), 6-9.

Coppola, N. W., Hiltz, S. R., & Rotter, N. G. (2002). Becoming a virtual professor: Pedagogical roles and asynchronous learning networks. Journal of Management Information Systems, 18(4), 169-189.

Day, C., Gu, Q., & Sammons, P. (2016). The impact of leadership on student outcomes: How successful school leaders use transformational and instructional strategies to make a difference. Educational Administration Quarterly, 52(2), 221-258. doi:10.1177/0013161x15616863

Dykman, C. A., & Davis, C. K. (2008). Online education forum: Part two—teaching online versus teaching conventionally. Journal of Information Systems Education, 19(2), 157-164.

Eliophotou-Menon, M., & Ioannou, A. (2016). The link between transformational leadership and teachers’ job satisfaction, commitment, motivation to learn, and trust in the leader. Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, 20(3), 12-22.

Garrison, D. R., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Fung, T. S. (2010). Exploring causal relationships among teaching, cognitive and social presence: Student perceptions of the community of inquiry framework. The Internet and Higher Education, 13(1-2), 31-36.

Gray, J. A., & DiLoreto, M. (2016). The effects of student engagement, student satisfaction, and perceived learning in online learning environments. International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, 11(1), n1.

Guasch, T., Alvarez, I., & Espasa, A. (2010). University teacher competencies in a virtual teaching/learning environment: Analysis of a teacher training experience. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(2), 199-206. doi: 10.1016/j.tate.2009.02.018

Handelsman, M. M., Briggs, W. L., Sullivan, N., & Towler, A. (2005). A measure of college student course engagement. The Journal of Educational Research, 98(3), 184-192.

Harris, A. & Muijs, D. (2005). Improving schools through teacher leadership. New York, NY: Open University Press.

Harrison, J. L. (2011). Instructor transformational leadership and student outcomes. Emerging Leadership Journey, 4(1), 91-119.

Heiberger, G., & Harper, R. (2008). Have you Facebooked Astin lately? Using technology to increase student involvement. New Directions for Student Services, 2008(124), 19-35.

Henrie, C. R., Halverson, L. R., & Graham, C. R. (2015). Measuring student engagement in technology-mediated learning: A review. Computers & Education, 90, 36-53.

Henthorne, E. E. H. (2019). Retaining Online Students: Engagement Indicators that Contribute to the Retention of Undergraduate Students in Online Programs at Traditional 4-Year Institutions (Doctoral dissertation, Union University).

Hipp, K. A. (1996, April). Teacher efficacy: Influence of administrator leadership behavior. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association, New York. Retrieved from

Hogan, R. L., & McKnight, M. A. (2007). Exploring burnout among university online instructors: An initial investigation. The Internet and Higher Education, 10(2), 117-124.

House, R. J. (1976). A 1976 theory of charismatic leadership. In J. G. Hunt & L. L. Larson (Eds.), Leadership: The cutting edge (pp.189-207). Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Hulpia, H., Devos, G., & Rosseel, Y. (2009). The relationship between the perception of distributed leadership in secondary schools and teachers’ and teacher leaders’ job satisfaction and organizational commitment. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 20(3), 291-317. doi:10.1080/09243450902909840

Jaggars, S. S., Edgecombe, N., & Stacey, G. W. (2013). What we know about online course outcomes: Research overview. Community College Research Center, Columbia University, New York, NY.

Jameson, J. (2013). e-Leadership in higher education: The fifth “age” of educational technology research. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(6), 889-915.

Junco, R., Heiberger, G., & Loken, E. (2011). The effect of Twitter on college student engagement and grades. Journal of Computer Assisted learning, 27(2), 119-132.

Leithwood, K., & Jantzi, D. (1999). Transformational School Leadership Effects: A Replication. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 10(4), 451-479.

Leithwood, K., & Jantzi, D. (2006). Transformational school leadership for large-scale reform: Effects on students, teachers, and their classroom practices. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 17(2), 201-227.

Livingston, R. K. (2010). An investigation of transformational leadership in a virtual learning environment. Capella University, Minneapolis.

Lowe, K. B., Kroeck, K., & Sivasubramaniam, N. (1996). Effectiveness correlates of transformational and transactional leadership: A meta-analytic review of the mlq literature. The Leadership Quarterly, 7(3), 385-425.

Mandernach, B. J. (2009). Effect of instructor-personalized multimedia in the online classroom. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 10(3).

Marcus, S. (2004). Leadership in distance education: Is it a unique type of leadership? Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 7(1).

McCarley, T. A., Peters, M. L., & Decman, J. M. (2014). Transformational leadership related to school climate: A multi-level analysis. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 44(2), 322-342.

Miner, J. B. (2015). Organizational Behavior 1: Essential Theories of Motivation and Leadership. London, England: Routledge.

Moore, R. L. (2014). Importance of Developing Community in Distance Education Courses. TechTrends, 58(2), 20-24. doi:10.1007/s11528-014-0733-x

Mucundanyi, G. (2019). College student engagement in online courses. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Las Cruces: New Mexico State University.

Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Printy, S. M., Marks, H. M., & Bowers, A. J. (2009). Integrated leadership: How administrators and teachers share transformational and instructional influence. Journal of School Leadership, 19(5), 504-532.

Redmond, P. (2011). From face-to-face teaching to online teaching: Pedagogical transitions. In G. Williams, P. Statham, N. Brown & B. Cleland (Eds.), Changing Demands, Changing Directions. Proceedings ascilite Hobart 2011. (pp.1050-1060).

Richardson, J. C., Besser, E., Koehler, A., Lim, J., & Strait, M. (2016). Instructors’ perceptions of instructor presence in online learning environments. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 17(4). doi:10.19173/irrodl.v17i4.2330

Richardson, J.C., Koehler, A., Besser, E., Caskurlu, S. Lim, J., & Mueller, C. (2015). Conceptualizing and investigating instructor presence in online learning environments. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 16(3), 256-297.

Richey, R. C., Klein, J. D., & Tracey, M. W. (2011). The instructional design knowledge base: The theory, research, and practice. New York: Routledge.

Robinson, C. C., & Hullinger, H. (2008). New Benchmarks in Higher Education: Student Engagement in Online Learning. Journal of Education for Business, 84(2), 101-109. doi:10.3200/joeb.84.2.101-109

Rovai, A., & Downey, J. (2009). Why some distance education programs fail while others succeed in a global environment. The Internet and Higher Education, 13(3), 141-147.

Shamir, B., House, R. J., & Arthur, M. B. (1993). The Motivational Effects of Charismatic Leadership: A Self-Concept Based Theory. Organization Science, 4(4), 577-594. doi:10.1287/orsc.4.4.577

Shaw, K. (2012). Leadership through instructional design in higher education. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(3).

Sher, A. (2009). Assessing the relationship of student-instructor and student-student interaction to student learning and satisfaction in web-based online learning environment. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 8(2), 102-120.

Stein, K. C., Macaluso, M., & Stanulis, R. N. (2016). The Interplay between Administrator Leadership and Teacher Leader Efficacy. Journal of School Leadership, 26(6), 1002-1032. doi:10.1177/105268461602600605

Swan, K., Shea, P., Richardson, J., Ice, P., Garrison, D. R., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Arbaugh, J. B. (2008). Validating a measurement tool of presence in online communities of inquiry. E-mentor, 2(24), 1-12.

Thomas, L., Tuytens, M., Devos, G., Kelchtermans, G., & Vanderlinde, R. (2018). Transformational school leadership as a key factor for teachers’ job attitudes during their first year in the profession. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 174114321878106. doi:10.1177/1741143218781064

Treslan, D. L. (2006). Transformational leadership in the classroom: Any evidence? Education Canada, 46(2), 58-62.

Wang, V. C., & Berger, J. (2010). Critical analysis of leadership needed in higher education. International Forum of Teaching and Studies, 6(2). 3-12.

Weaver, R. R., & Qi, J. (2005). Classroom organization and participation: College students’ perceptions. The Journal of Higher Education, 76(5), 570-601.

Woodley, X. M., Mucundanyi, G., & Lockard, M. (2017). Designing counter-narratives: Constructing culturally responsive curriculum online. International Journal of Online Pedagogy and Course Design (IJOPCD), 7(1), 43-56.

Yammarino, F. J. (1993). Transformational leadership studies: Bernard Bass’ leadership and performance beyond expectations. Leadership Quarterly, 4(3), 379-382.

Young, S., & Bruce, M. A. (2011). Classroom community and student engagement in online courses. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(2), 219-230.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2021 Jiabing Yin

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

Share us to:   


  • How to do online submission to another Journal?
  • If you have already registered in Journal A, then how can you submit another article to Journal B? It takes two steps to make it happen:

1. Register yourself in Journal B as an Author

  • Find the journal you want to submit to in CATEGORIES, click on “VIEW JOURNAL”, “Online Submissions”, “GO TO LOGIN” and “Edit My Profile”. Check “Author” on the “Edit Profile” page, then “Save”.

2. Submission

Online Submission:

  • Go to “User Home”, and click on “Author” under the name of Journal B. You may start a New Submission by clicking on “CLICK HERE”.
  • We only use four mailboxes as follows to deal with issues about paper acceptance, payment and submission of electronic versions of our journals to databases:;;;

 Articles published in Cross-Cultural Communication are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC-BY).


Address: 1055 Rue Lucien-L'Allier, Unit #772, Montreal, QC H3G 3C4, Canada.
Telephone: 1-514-558 6138 
Website: Http://; Http://;

Copyright © Canadian Academy of Oriental and Occidental Culture