Tensions within work-based, distance learning supported by online community

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This diagram illustrates some of the tensions impacting on HE students undertaking distance, work-based study, supported through online communities – a personalised model that is collaborative by design (as implemented by the Ultraversity project). This deliberate choice contrasts with many distance learning approaches that can be an individualised and isolated experience.

The triangular relationship between student, workplace, and HEI is the ‘engine’ of these tensions. The competing demands of the course, workplace and their own agenda and motivations must be reconciled by the student.

The exact nature of these tensions and their impact upon student behaviour will be heavily contextual, depending upon the interplay of many factors such as HEI and employer relationships, funding, work place policies, relationships with colleagues, the design and demands of the learning programme, etc.

Distance, work-based programmes seeking to use a broadly social constructivist approach through the development of online ‘communities’ need to consider these tensions. Theories and models such as Knowles’ Andragogy and Wenger’s Communities of Practice can help to inform the choices that are made by programme designers. Ultimately, however, it is through understanding the experience of the learner that better programme design will be possible.

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