City Research Online

Learning during online and blended courses - Volume 2

Gulati, S. (2006). Learning during online and blended courses - Volume 2. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Over the last decade online learning technologies have proliferated in higher education institutions. It is suggested that online technologies can enable flexible and accessible learning for busy professional learners with different learning needs. Broadly speaking, online pedagogy emphasises either transmissive or social constructivist models of learning. The transmissive approach is manifest in the use of information technologies that upload and transmit training resources, whilst social constructivist approaches tend to favour the use of active participation in learning, especially through opportunities for online discussion. Such practices are based on different assumptions about how different learners might experience and use the new technologies. However, the growing emphasis on participation in online discussion assumes that those who do not participate are missing out on the learning opportunities provided, and that all learners benefit in the same ways from the same learning processes.

This doctoral research challenges this assumption, and sought to examine how ways of knowing varied for learners according to whether they were active, moderate or silent participants in online discussions. The research was based in the constructivist paradigm, using Kelly’s (1970) Personal Construct Theory and the Repertory Grid Method to elicit how twenty-nine learners constructed meaning, in eight postgraduate professional courses that emphasised online discussion participation. The research used interviews and visualisation techniques. Data were analysed using factor analysis and qualitative analysis using the grounded theory approach to extract and compare learners’ knowledge construction processes.

The analysis highlighted personal control and emotions as the main personal constructs which influenced different learners’ participation in chosen and required learning activities including online discussion participation. All learners wanted to create positive online social identities before they could engage in deeper online discourse. The analysis identified complex social psychological processes and practical factors that explained why some learners felt greater control and positive emotions during online discussions and were able to construct positive online identities as compared to others. The research evidence showed that online discussion participation empowered some learners and not others. The evidence of knowledge construction by silent learners suggested that despite their online silence these learners were engaged in social construction of meaning.

The research contributes to the presently under-conceptualised field of online learning practice. It challenges, conceptualises and theorises the contemporary emphasis on online discussions in online learning. The grounded theory approach has led to a set of theoretical tenets and hypotheses and offers an emerging view of practice that might support online practitioners in helping their students to develop learning strategies. The conclusions emphasise that on one way of knowing, such as online discussion participation, may not fit different learners’ knowledge construction processes. In particular, the research strongly recommends that technology use in learning needs to consider the significance professional adult learners place on personal control and positive emotions during learning. The research findings and recommendations highlight the need to put the learner before the learning design, and learning before technology.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: L Education > L Education (General)
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
Departments: Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
City, University of London (-2022) > School of Arts & Social Sciences
School of Arts & Social Sciences
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