An investigation into adult learners' experiences of developing distributed learning networks with self-publishing technologies

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Currently, higher education institutions and organisational learning contexts are experiencing significant change where educators are challenged by a reduction in available funding, a disconnect between offerings and learner expectations, and a rapidly shifting technology landscape where personal computing options are ubiquitous and frequently more engaging and flexible than options available through universities or workplaces. As organisations search for new business models and more cost effective methods to distribute content and reach a greater number of learners, the potential to implement strategies to improve learning and enhance experiences through self-publishing with social software and associated networked technologies is not being realised. This study was conducted in 2005, when the use of weblogs and related social software was increasing in ease of use and adoption rates, with a growing number of supporters claiming the weblog was going to be the most significant technological development in online learning since the introduction of enterprise level Learner Management Systems. The basis of the study was to investigate the variation in adult learners’ experiences of developed distributed learning networks (DLNs) that extended the learning beyond the physical boundaries and opinions of the classroom context through the use of self-publishing social software. The research used an original pedagogical approach, the 5-Stage pedagogical framework (5SPF), which was developed from five years of practice for the introduction and integration of social software into learning environments. This framework enabled the collection of data directly addressing the research questions that form the basis of this thesis. The systematic approach to understanding the learners’ collective experience of self-publishing provided by the 5SPF enabled a focus on the scaffolding and support required by students within this teaching and learning environment. This innovative methodological research framework was developed through a combination of phenomenographic and interpretive methods to determine the qualitatively different ways learners experience the use of self-publishing technologies, in particular weblogs. The range and depth of data sets obtained through the methodological framework has facilitated a rich set of findings that were complied over a relatively long period of time. This longer period of time enabled the research participants to reflect upon their responses in ways that are not possible using traditional qualitative methods. The results indicate the pedagogically significant variations represented in phenomenographic categories of description that highlight the critical differences in the ways learners experience the process of developing and learning in a DLN, while the expanding themes of awareness informed the DLN outcome space that demonstrated the value of the 5SPF to specifically provide strategies to enable new approaches to learning through self-publishing and highlighted the need for a new approach to teaching with social software, the Connected Educator. A retrospective review of literature and practice at the time of the study is made relevant through the analysis of results in comparison with contemporary perspectives and current research, demonstrating the validity of the 5SPF as an approach that has withstood enhancements in new technologies and increasingly signifies the need to ensure that a strategic pedagogical approach is present in the current changing learning landscape. The thesis describes major contributions from the study, highlighting that the emphasis on technology is less consequential to a learning impact than the value attributed to the act of learning through self-publishing and the importance of a pedagogical framework to successfully integrate new technologies into learning environments.
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