E-Learning: Designing to Improve Learner Experiences

Heffernan, Kevin (2014). E-Learning: Designing to Improve Learner Experiences. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000f07c


This three phase ‘action research’ based study set out to improve the experience of e-learners. The first two phases resulted in a set of recommendations with the potential to improve the experiences of e-learners. The recommendations resulted in three sets of implementations aimed at providing an active and salient leadership, developing an active learning community, and communicating module element clearly and precisely. Phase three involved implementing the recommendations in a module delivered to 20 postgraduate learners in blended mode and evaluating the impact on their learning experiences. Water-Adams (2006) suggests action and context are central to action research which is a practical approach to professional inquiry. This research addressed a real life, in context problem on a collaborative basis with learners. The approach was interpretative, phenomenological, idiographic and inductive. The primary research tool was the interview used to develop an understanding of learner experiences at a deep and individual level. An unstructured interview was used to evaluate learner experiences in phase one. Themes were abstracted from phase one interviews and used to inform semi-structured interviews which were conducted in phases two and three. A questionnaire was also used in phase three to evaluate the general class experience. The findings suggested that the implementations were successful. Learners perceived an active and salient leadership, felt they benefitted as part of an active learning community and articulated appreciation for clear communications of module elements. However, the nature of communications seemed to play an important role as learners responded very positively to personalised communications such as texting and audio feedback from the tutor. The results highlight the vital role of communications in an e-learning environment, in particular communications which give evidence of an active, approachable and understanding tutor presence, and connects cognitively and emotionally with learners.

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