Interactive media in distance learning for UK farmers: the countryside disc

Edirisingha, Palitha (1997). Interactive media in distance learning for UK farmers: the countryside disc. PhD thesis The Open University.



How might UK farmers benefit from using interactive computer-based media? These farmers need to learn how to change their practices in a rapidly changing economic and social environment. They have difficulty in obtaining suitable training through conventional audio-visual media and face-to-face sessions. How would they benefit from learning at a distance, using computer-based media in their own homes and offices?

This thesis presents a naturalistic study of how a number of UK farmers benefited from using the Countryside Disc, one of the few examples available of an interactive training program aimed at farmers. The Disc, which is a computer-controlled laser vision videodisc, required the farmers to act in a complex simulated world (of a farm and its social and ecological environment) in which they received frequent and immediate feedback concerning the consequences of their actions.

After a pilot study to develop the methodology, the main study involved observation and recording of 10 farmers' interactions with the Disc.

The farmers engaged in hundreds of instructional interactions with the Disc. Each farmer's approach to learning changed as he or she worked through the program, and was clearly related to the learning outcomes for that person. The Disc demanded a deep approach: two farmers who attempted to use a surface approach were unable to continue.

The farmers drew heavily on their experience in the real farming world and the frequent feedback prompted them to be reflective on both that experience and the training offered by the Disc.

They also encountered a range of navigational problems, most of which could be reduced or eliminated through redesign of the Disc.

The most important finding was that farmers, through using the Countryside Disc, received training, in their homes and offices, in (a) gaining deep understanding of the interplay of factors involved in present-day farming, and (b) making profitable farm management decisions - while observing relevant regulations and being responsive to the opinions of interest groups.

The thesis concludes with a discussion of the findings in the light of theories advanced by Marton and Säljö on deep and surface learning, by Laurillard on conversational framework and by Schön on reflective practitioners. It includes suggestions for further research.

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