This project adopts a methodology developed during a scoping study carried out by Sharpe et al. (2005), to collect data on learner experiences with e-learning.

Learner experiences of e-Learning

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Presentations from the February 2006 Pedagogy experts meeting.

This project adopts a methodology developed during a scoping study carried out by Sharpe et al. (2005), to collect data on learner experiences with e-learning. In general the study is aimed at describing the learner’s personal background and (learning) context in which they integrate technology into their learning. Against this background, the nature of the learner’s experience and their e-learn strategies and beliefs will be explored around an artefact produced by the learner in the course of their learning activity. 

The selection of learners to be included in this study will be done in close collaboration with participating subject centres. Via tutors who have taken specific pedagogical approaches, or are working in specific contexts, learners who have been effective in their participation with e-learning will be approached to capture their experience with e-learning. The dialogue plus taxonomy (Conole, 2005) will be used to assess whether these different approaches cover different learning activities.

Aims and Objectives

The main research theme of this project is to collect learner stories on their experiences with e-learning. The learner perspective on e-learning is largely overlooked in research and development projects (Sharpe et al., 2005). However knowledge of how learners use and experience e-learning/technology in their learning activities is crucial for the development of tools, pedagogy and teaching practices. 

This project will focus in on context and background of the e-learner. Main research questions addressed in this project are:

  • How do learners engage with and experience e-learning?
  • What is their perception of e-learning?
  • What do e-learners do when they are learning with technology?
  • What strategies do e-learners use and what is effective?
  • How does e-learning relate to and contribute to the whole learning experience?
  • How do learners manage to fit e-learning around their traditional learning activities?

Project Methodology

The main research questions will be explored in the case studies, study of cases and rounded up during the focus groups. During the case studies, each subject centre will carry out 4-5 studies involving learners working on a particular artefact. The learners involved will be asked to keep an audio-log of their activities and experiences and or be observed while working on the learning activity. 

The proposed methodological approach embraces two phases. The first is to collect more generally information on how learners across the different subject areas are engaged with e-learning and integrate technology into their learning in general. As learning is situated in a socio-cultural context which contributes to the learners’ experience (Lave & Wenger, 1991), understanding the learning context and setting is crucial to interpreting learners’ experiences. A survey will serve as the first instrument to gather general background information about the learners and the way they integrate technology into their learning. More general information about the learner background, selection of technologies, level of competence and experience with working with technology can be gathered. Additional information on pedagogical approach, course design, and learning outcomes (artefacts) can be drawn from the participating researchers from the subject centres. Through this first phase of data analysis we gain a preliminary understanding of the setting in which learners learn and use technology to support their learning and will serve as a context to guide the second phase. The second is focused on the actual learning experiences. Based on the sampling strategy and the results of the survey 16-20 learners (4-5 learners per subject centre) will be selected for the in-depth case studies on their e-learning activities and experiences. 

During these case studies a mixture of observations and audio-logs will be used to gather rich empirical data around the artefact the learners are working on. The observations, including thinking-aloud techniques will provide evidence of the activities that students are engaged during e-learning and allow us to explore the learning strategies they develop and their thinking behind it. Through the use of audio-logs we aim to collect diaries on their learning activities. Diaries can provide rich data about the day-to-day events and contain a realistic account of the activities undertaken by the learners. Outcomes of these diaries can be used to feed in to the interview with the learner to reflect on technologies used and strategies developed. Working with written diaries has proven useful (see Harrison & Weedon, 2004) but are often incomplete. Participants usually find keeping diaries time consuming. To overcome this we provide voice recorders in this project, where participants are asked to make short recordings during their activities about what they are doing. 

At the end of each case study the learner will be interviewed around the artefacts the learners are working on. The focus is on eliciting their experiences with integrating technology in the learning as is expressed in the main research questions. During these interviews we will use the (preliminary) outcomes of the audio-logs and observational data, as a way to probe the learners to recall (Kagan & Kagan 1991; Tuckwell, 1980) particular events and how they felt at the time to reflect with the learnings on their e-learning experiences and the (effective) strategies they developed. 

After gathering data on the level of individual students, the research team will use several analytical methods to analyse each case study individually followed by an overarching study across the cases (study of cases). The central purpose of analysing qualitative data will be to extract, generalise and abstract from the complexity of the data, evidence concerning e-learning activities and experiences in order the answer the main research questions. Transcriptions of the interviews and observational data (including audio-logs) will be analysed using computer assisted data analysis software (CAQDAS), (Clarke, Marashi, & Harrison, 2001), NVivo (Qualitative Solutions and Research, 1999), and a concordancing tool for KWIC analysis (Wegerif & Mercer, 1997). The main advantages of using these technologies include partial automation of the analytical process and a wider range of ways to search, and interrogate the data. 

The outcomes of these case studies will be used to organise focus groups (Morgan, 1997). Focus groups allow for a different kind of reflection upon e-learning experiences than methods directed towards individuals, which can either contextualise the latter, or allow different experiences and aspects to be discussed. In this way, the focus groups can be used as a triangulation method to transcend from the data gathered from individual learners and validate and reflect on these results in a larger group of e-learners that were covered by the original sample. For each subject area a focus group session will be held, consisting of 8-10 participants (including a number of participants of the case studies). 

The broad interpretive framework for the study will combine phenomenographic and ethnographic approaches, which are geared towards the description of particular cases and individual approaches in the way they use technology to support their learning. Kinds of technologies and strategies used at various stages of their (collaborative or individual) assignment will be described together with their experiences and desires for future e-learning activities. These individual stories will be followed by a description on how these experiences are different or similar across the learners (between the cases) and their peers involved in the focus groups.

Deliverables

The major outcome of the research will be a series of in-depth case studies and an analysis across the cases which will provide a rich description of learners’ experiences of e-learning, focusing in particular on the following aspects:

1) the characteristics of the learner (age, experience, competence with technology, level of study, work demands, etc) and how these affect the whole experience;
2) the stages and processes of e-learning as experienced by learners;
3) the typical learner experience and strategies of different modes of e-learning;
4) variations in experiences of different modes of e-learning and suggestions as to what these might be attributed to;
5) a description of the evaluation of e-learning by learners and an analysis of the factors impact on positive and negative evaluations;
6) recommendations concerning follow-up studies of gaps between the expectations of e-learning designers and tutors and the experiences of learners.
7) Recommendations to JISC on how this work can feed into the development of a future programme of funding activities in this area.
8) Indentification of appropirate dissemination routes to ensure maximum reach of the findings of the study. This will include active, on-going consultative consultation during the lifespan of the project, through involvement in: the Networked Learning conference – April 2006 (to reach the academic research community), HE subject centres annual conference – Spring 2006 (the subject practitioner base), JISC annual e-learning conference - March 2006 (the JISC community and policy makers), the ALT-C 2006 conference – September 2006 (the e-learning research and practitioner community) and the JISC e-pedagogy expertise forum February 2006 (in terms of validation of approach and findings). In addition we will identify future mechanisms for dissemination post completion of the report and in particular the scoping of a student conference and the development of an effective practice booklet in line with the existing JISC series on effective practice for practice and case studies of innovation. 

Stakeholders

Subject centres
Learners
Teachers
Industry – ICT developers

Any other information

This study is part of a larger research programme initiated by JISC, studying learner experiences across further, higher, continuing and workplace learning settings. For further information about this project, contact Maarten de Laart (m.delaat@soton.ac.uk)

Project Staff

 

Project Manager

Grainne Conole & Maarten de Laat

Project Team

Grainne Conole
Maarten de Laat
Teresa Dillon
Jonathan Darby

Summary
Start date
1 December 2005
End date
31 July 2006
Funding programme
e-Learning Pedagogy programme