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One of the most important roles of the online instructor is to insure successful teaching by keeping students' interactions and discussions focused on topic, adding knowledge and expertise, and maintaining group harmony. Therefore, the success of online learning depends on the instructors' ability to acquire new competencies, rather than mastering the technology. Despite the growth in online instructor competency related studies, there is a lack of research regarding the instructors' roles and competencies from the distance learning students' perspective. This study was an attempt to explore distance learning students' perceptions of the roles and competencies defined by experts in the field. A comprehensive list of roles, outputs, and competencies of online instructors were provided to the students in order to rate the importance of each role and competency. It was the purpose of this study to compare the findings of this study with the findings of pervious studies. The population of this study included all distance learning graduate students (n = 328) currently enrolled in the School of Information Studies at Florida State University. Forty-two percent (n = 140) of the original student population of 328, completed and submitted the online survey. Roles and competencies were ranked by their importance; ranking was also achieved by taking the average of competency means across roles and competencies. Results for the top ten competencies in overall importance, based on highest mean rating are: Content Knowledge, Facilitation (discussion) Skills, Organizational Skills, Planning Skills, English Proficiency, Presentation Skills, Interpersonal Communication Skills, Learning Styles and Theory, Teaching Strategies/models, Skills with Internet Tools for Instruction. The findings also determined that when compared to previous competency studies, there was a significant difference between students' perceptions and experts' perceptions regarding the most important online instructor competencies. Experts rated social competencies (interpersonal communication skills) number one in the list of top ten most important online instructor competencies; on the other hand, students rated intellectual competencies (content knowledge) number one in their list of top ten. However, both experts and students concurred regarding managerial competencies, because both rated at least four managerial skills in the list of top ten competencies. Distance learning students' responses indicated that instructors should give careful attention to the development and improvement of their intellectual, social, managerial, and technical roles and competencies. The importance of paying attention to the technical and managerial roles, in addition to intellectual and social competencies of the online instructor, were emphasized as critical factors for the success of discussion and interaction in the online environment. This dissertation has helped bridge the gap between the perceptions of distance education experts and distance learning students by providing a comprehensive list of important online instructors' roles and competencies. Due to the rate of change in technologies used to deliver instruction and related changes in higher education, it is recommended to do another study to identify more roles and competencies. This study should be expanded to include the perceptions of students in different disciplines and other countries.