Adult postgraduate students’ learning in online spaces—Images of identity and belonging

Dennis, Carol Azumah and Clifton, Gill (2021). Adult postgraduate students’ learning in online spaces—Images of identity and belonging. Zeitschrift für Weiterbildungsforschung, 44(2) pp. 133–150.



This research seeks to animate the voices of postgraduate students registered on a UK distance learning online Masters in Education or Childhood & Youth programme. Such a critical exploration is timely given the HE landscape is premised on its openness and accessibility. Our study reports on 33 interviews with postgraduate students using photo elicitation and unstructured interviews. We prioritise the perspectives of students whose experiences do not replicate the success stories which generally epitomize representations of HE study, favouring instead the voices of students who interrupted or in some cases terminated their studies. Our aim is to better understand the PG students’ personal, professional, and academic learning trajectories. In reading the data we produced four “manifesto” statements crafted from a series of dialogues between ourselves as researchers, our colleagues, the online experiences of adult postgraduate students and our reading of literatures surrounding withdrawal, persistence and retention. Interpretations gravitated towards four themes: identity, belonging, digital pedagogies and uncanny spaces and which point towards students’ perspectives about the interconnections between identity and belonging and how these concepts help develop understanding of “social presence”, what Bayne (2008) and Cartens (2016) assert as “uncanny” spaces. Our manifesto statements represent our reading of the data to stimulate further thinking around the HE digital pedagogy landscapes. The four statements have implications for how we understand, participate in and manage postgraduate adult students’ learning in digital spaces.

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