Abstract

Dr. Stephen Powell PhD: Innovating the development of Work Focussed Learning in higher education

This thesis presents my practice as an action researcher in higher education (HE) over a ten-year period, developing courses for students who were unable to take advantage of the existing provision in the institutions in which I worked.  The knowledge I gained and practices that I developed contributed to a series of cycles of action research and the conclusions I draw at the end of the thesis are used to propose a further cycle.  The curricula that I developed and delivered were designed for students who had a strong commitment to their work and wanted to improve it, but at the same time wanted to gain academic qualifications; the central premise behind this work being that, ‘work can form the basis for learning, which can then be accredited by higher education’.  Although study was based around the work that a student did, their employer had no formal relationship with the university offering the courses.  Students were attracted to a package that offered personalised and flexible learning at a cost that was affordable to them.  The contributions to knowledge that I make relate to the organisation of teaching, the nature of the innovative curriculum design and the collaborative curriculum change processes carried out.  Using this approach, learners make improvements in their work context to gain academic credit from the scholarly practices they have applied to inform and evaluate their activities.  The findings suggest that a curriculum design using a teaching and learning strategy based on action-inquiry, delivered entirely online, can be successful in enabling students to work full-time and gain academic credit at a full time rate.  However, the results also revealed that there are significant institutional barriers that need to be overcome to implement such a curriculum design that is radically different in having a non-traditional curriculum and unique ways of working.  The key recommendation from this body of work is that radical curriculum innovations in HE are more likely to be successful if a separate business unit is established with control over its own capability development.  By having control over processes, staffing, and a technical systems infrastructure, a separate business unit is able to respond to the new and different demands placed on it, developing its own culture and identity that fit with a new business model.

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