LEX Final Report, August 2006

LEX
The Learner Experience of e-Learning

Final Project Report
August 2006

Linda Creanor l.creanor@gcal.ac.uk Kathryn Trinder k.trinder@gcal.ac.uk Glasgow Caledonian University Doug Gowan doug.gowan@olp.org.uk Carol Howells carol.howells@olp.org.uk The Open Learning Partnership

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L E X - Final Project Report
1. Introduction..................................................................................................................... 3 2. Research Methodology .................................................................................................. 4 2.1 IPA .............................................................................................................................. 4 2.2 Interview Plus ........................................................................................................... 4 3. Implementation............................................................................................................... 5 3.1 Tutor engagement .................................................................................................... 5 3.2 Sampling strategy..................................................................................................... 5 3.3 Interview artefacts .................................................................................................... 7 4. Data Analysis .................................................................................................................. 7 4.1 Exploratory codes and emerging themes.............................................................. 7 4.2 Collaborative software tools ................................................................................... 8 5. Overview ......................................................................................................................... 8 6. Characterising effective learners in an e-learning context....................................... 9 6.1 Learning and identity .............................................................................................. 9 6.2 Informal learning with technology ........................................................................ 9 6.3 IT skills ..................................................................................................................... 10 6.4 Networking ............................................................................................................. 11 6.5 Age factors............................................................................................................... 11 7. Learner beliefs and intentions ................................................................................... 12 7.1 Advantages and disadvantages of e-learning .................................................... 12 7.2 Emotions .................................................................................................................. 14 7.4 Study and leisure .................................................................................................... 14 7.5 Confidence and self-esteem .................................................................................. 15 7.6 Tutor support .......................................................................................................... 15 8. Learner strategies and behaviours ............................................................................. 16 8.1 Fitting learning around life ................................................................................... 16 8.2 Approaches to study .............................................................................................. 17 8.3 Influence of family.................................................................................................. 18 8.4 Learning activities .................................................................................................. 19 8.5 Control and choice.................................................................................................. 21 8.6 Cost factors .............................................................................................................. 22 9. Developing a conceptual framework........................................................................ 22 10. Conclusions and recommendations......................................................................... 25 10.1 On the findings ..................................................................................................... 25 10.2 On the process....................................................................................................... 27 10.3 Recommendations ................................................................................................ 28 Acknowledgements.......................................................................................................... 29 Author details ................................................................................................................... 30 References .......................................................................................................................... 31 Appendices........................................................................................................................ 33 Appendix 1 - Interview Schedule................................................................................... 33 Appendix 2 - Focus Group Interview Schedule ........................................................... 34 Appendix 3 - Organisational letter ................................................................................ 35 Appendix 4 - Learner Profile .......................................................................................... 36 Appendix 5 - Consent form............................................................................................. 38 Appendix 6 - Details of sampling................................................................................... 39

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1.1 Interviews and Focus groups carried out ........................................................... 39 1.2 Participating Institutions ....................................................................................... 40 Appendix 7 - Demographics ........................................................................................... 41 Appendix 8 - Conceptual map of influencing factors ................................................. 44

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L E X - Final Project Report
1. Introduction
The Learner’s Experience of E-Learning (LEX) research study was funded under the Pedagogy strand of the JISC e-Learning Development Programme and ran for one year, from May 2005 to June 2006. It formed part of the ‘Understanding my Learning’ theme which is exploring learner perspectives on e-learning. The aim of the study was to investigate learners’ current experiences and expectations of elearning across the broad range of further, higher, adult, community and work-based learning. We have taken a very broad view of e-learning to encompass a spectrum of technology use from completely online courses, through campus-based courses enhanced by digital resources, to more personalised use of social software and mobile devices. “To see e-learning from the learner’s viewpoint, we must see technology in the broadest possible sense”. (Sharpe et al, 2005, p3) LEX was closely linked to the Learner Scoping Study undertaken by Rhona Sharpe, Greg Benfield, Ellen Lessner and Eta De Cicco in 2005, which provided its underpinning theoretical and methodological basis. The literature review undertaken by the scoping study indicates that the majority of e-learning research originates in higher education, while adult and community learning and work-based learning contexts are poorly represented. Many are written from a practitioner’s perspective, with only a small minority allowing the learner’s voice to come through. “It is noticeable that there are few studies in the literature which have taken a holistic approach to the study of e-learning. There is a dearth of studies into how learners in mainstream post-compulsory learning experience the increasingly ubiquitous use of elearning technologies and approaches within a generally campus-based learning context.” (Sharpe et al, 2005, p3) Previous influential studies have included the Networked Learning in Higher Education project (Jan 1999 – Dec 2000) based at the University of Lancaster, which researched student experiences of online learning through a series of case studies, surveys and interviews, and the Student Online Learning Experiences project (SOLE, 2002-2004) at the University of Bristol, which also used case studies to investigate the student experience of virtual learning environments in both Higher and Further Education. The blurring of boundaries between the experiences of onand off-campus learners, the changing nature of learner profiles and the influence of the institutional context were noted (Jones et al, 2001), as were evolving roles and pedagogies (Timmis et al, 2004). LEX aimed to build on these studies and help to address the imbalance by adopting an exclusively learner-centred focus to find out directly from the learners how they

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felt about, and coped with, e-learning. The research questions therefore centred on the following themes: • • What might characterise effective learners in an e-learning context? (e.g. IT skills, confidence, technology-rich background) What beliefs and intentions do effective learners display? (e.g. understanding of the teaching and learning process and their role within that, personal motivation, emotional aspects of technology use.) • What strategies do effective learners display? (e.g. managing their learning, fitting life around learning, coping with problems, willingness to engage in e-learning) It was evident from the questions that a holistic approach was required, encompassing the whole learning context rather than focusing exclusively on elearning. Given the complexity of learners’ lives as they try to fit study around work, leisure and family commitments, it was clear from the outset that it would be necessary for the LEX study to take a broad view of the field.

2. Research Methodology
A full account of the research methodology will be provided by an accompanying report authored by Professor Terry Mayes, consultant to the LEX project, therefore this section gives a brief overview only.
2.1 IPA

Following discussion with Terry Mayes, and in recognition of the subjective nature of the learner experience, the research team decided to adopt an Interpretative Phenomenological Approach (IPA) as described by Reid, Flowers and Larkin (2005). To date, this variation of phenomenological methodology has been used primarily in health and psychology disciplines, and rests on the premise that the interviewee is expert on their own experience. This inductive approach deliberately avoids testing hypotheses and making prior assumptions, but rather encourages participants to provide their own detailed narrative, interpreting their understanding of their experiences firstly for themselves and subsequently for the researcher. Its aim is to capture and explore the meanings that participants assign to their own experiences, reduce the complexity of the resultant data through rigorous analysis, and provide an interpretative, transparent and reflective account of the outcome. As well as providing a plausible interpretation of an individual experience, the analysis can also maintain a balance by drawing out shared aspects of experiences across a group of participants. Flowers (2005) states that “Analyses usually maintain some level of focus on what is distinct (i.e. idiographic study of persons), but will also attempt to balance this against an account of what is shared (i.e. commonalities across a group of participants).”
2.2 Interview Plus

Another influencing factor has been the work of Helen Beetham, consultant to the JISC Pedagogy strand, whose advice and guidance, particularly in relation to interview techniques, has also been valuable to the LEX team. The term Interview Plus was coined by Helen to describe the conduct and analysis of individual

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interviews supported by appropriate learning artefacts. These artefacts would normally be created by the learner during a learning episode and may include items such as learning diaries, blogs, transcripts of asynchronous discussions and eportfolios which are used as prompts to instigate discussion and encourage deeper reflection (Aspden & Helm, 2004). The Scoping Study Final Report (2005) also advocated this approach as a useful technique to help capture effectively the beliefs, intentions, motivations and feelings of learners. By combining IPA with Interview Plus, we aimed to elicit highly personal and subjective data from individuals alongside the identification of shared characteristics across the sample. The study was based therefore on a series of interviews supplemented with a few focus groups (schedules are available in appendices 1 & 2), initially to help with the identification of suitable candidates for interview, and subsequently to validate some of the interesting themes which had emerged during the interviews.

3. Implementation
Practical aspects of implementing the study also required to be addressed. The initial list of contacts which the scoping team provided was supplemented with others from the Pedagogy Experts group and LEX team members. These were reviewed with the intention of maintaining a balance between HE, FE and ACL contexts from across the UK, and of ensuring a representative sample of different e-learning approaches.
3.1 Tutor engagement

We were aware also that tutor engagement would be crucial, and were relieved to find that those we contacted were very willing to encourage their learners’ involvement in the study. Letters of confirmation were sent to senior people in each organisation to ensure participation was visible and acknowledged (appendix 3). We made clear that our intention was not to review particular courses, but to elicit learner views on the wider impact of technology on their learning. Tutor input was also valuable in providing background information about the use of e-learning in their courses, helping to identify suitable learners for interview, and arranging appropriate venues. They assisted with the identification of learning artefacts for use during interviews and in granting us access to online discussion forums and other course resources.
3.2 Sampling strategy

From these initial contacts, we identified a shortlist with whom we engaged in correspondence, working closely with tutors to identify individuals and groups of learners for interview. We were keen to capture a balance of ages, gender, educational levels and previous e-learning experience, and as far as possible, targeted individuals who matched our criteria. We contacted individual learners directly to arrange dates, times and interview venues, and asked them to complete learner profiles and sign consent forms (appendices 4 & 5). National book tokens were offered as an incentive to all learners who took part. These administrative aspects of the study took much longer than expected, but we felt strongly that the nature of our approach necessitated face-to-face meetings rather than telephone or online interviews. Throughout the study, timing has been crucial: too early in the 5

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academic year and learners have not had any real exposure to e-learning; too late and they are busy with final assignments and exams. Table 1 below outlines the total number of interviews and focus groups conducted. Table 1 Total Number Focus groups Individual interviews Learners involved Institutions involved 6 22 55 9 (3 HE, 4 FE, 2 ACL)

The 55 participants comprised 24 males (44%) and 30 females (55%). One person did not declare their gender. Of these, 41 (75%) had English as their first language. Participants were learning on a range of courses such as higher national social care and customer care; undergraduate business studies; English for speakers of other languages (ESOL); postgraduate law; trade union education; undergraduate economics; undergraduate hospitality supervision; adult numeracy & literacy; and undergraduate marketing. Of those taking part in formal courses, 24 were in full time education and 19 were studying part-time. The majority (71%) were also in employment, with 18 working full time and 21 part-time. A further 5 were actively seeking employment. Table 2 highlights the age range of participants, capturing a broad spectrum of learners from recent school leavers to mature adults. Table 2 Age range 16-24 25-34 35-54 55-64 65+ Unstated 24 6 20 2 2 1 % 43.6% 10.9% 36.4% 3.6% 3.6% 1.8%

When asked to rate their computer skills, only 3 (5%) classified themselves as expert users while 25 (45%) stated that they were confident in their skills. The remainder described themselves as partly confident, with only one acknowledging a complete lack of confidence. While the majority (71%) had access to a computer from home, it’s interesting to note that an even greater number (85%) made frequent use of a mobile phone. Table 3 provides a breakdown of the learners’ experiences of learning technology. It 6

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demonstrates that email was by far the most used technology in this context (69%), followed by computer-based course materials (38%). For 11 (20%) of learners, this was their first experience of using technology for learning. Table 3 Learning Technology Online course Partly online course Electronic whiteboard Materials on computer Computer based assessments Online discussion board Video and audio files Videoconferencing Email Learning on mobile device First experience Other 10 8 14 26 21 12 15 4 38 4 11 0 % 18.2 14.5 25.5 47.3 38.2 21.8 27.3 7.3 69.1 7.3 20.0 0

The full sampling data is available in appendices 6 and 7.
3.3 Interview artefacts

As recommended, learning artefacts were used whenever possible during the individual interviews. These ranged from online resources such as learning logs or course materials which the interviewees had been using, to online discussion boards and video lectures. In one case we prepared interviewees by asking them to keep a reflective blog on their use of technology for two weeks before attending the interview, and then used these reflections to focus the discussion. In another case, a discussion forum was created specifically to encourage reflection among the participants in an online course which not only allowed us to introduce the topic in an informal way, but also helped us to identify suitable candidates for interview. Where interviews took place in a learning centre, the venue itself and the technical provision within it often proved to be a useful talking point. In order to ensure an open and wide-ranging discussion with the interviewees however, we found it helpful to delay the introduction of the artefact as it did tend to narrow the focus of the interview.

4. Data Analysis
The analysis of the rich data set yielded by the IPA interviews proved to be complex and challenging. Again, full details will be presented in the accompanying methodology report, therefore only a short overview is presented here.
4.1 Exploratory codes and emerging themes

According to the IPA literature, the researcher’s subjective interpretation of the meanings, attitudes and understandings which underpin an individual’s lived experience cannot be construed as facts, but through implementing a detailed exploratory coding approach to the analysis which highlights emergent and recurrent themes, along with rigorous cross-validation among the research team, a

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robust analytic interpretation can be achieved (Elliot et al, 1999; Reid et al, 2005). We adopted a collaborative approach, with three of the team members carefully extracting the exploratory codes and emerging themes for groups of three or four transcripts at a time, then passing them on to the fourth team member for crossvalidation and synthesis. This was done in rotation, with each member of the team having the opportunity to analyse the group level themes and to contribute to the higher level ‘super’ themes. Learner quotes which illustrated these themes were also highlighted during this process, and short audio clips were prepared of some of the more interesting quotes.
4.2 Collaborative software tools

In keeping with the nature of the study, the distributed LEX team made use of social software to support the process of analysis, with Moodle and Writely proving to be extremely valuable tools. This was supplemented by regular teleconferences and the occasional face-to-face brainstorming meeting, particularly at the beginning and towards the end of the process. Concept mapping software was also used to help illustrate the themes and explore their connections.

5. Overview
The complexity of the learning context is already well documented (e.g. Entwhistle et al, 2002; Mason & Weller, 2000) but additional layers of difficulty appear when we view it entirely from the learner perspective. The complicated nature of their lives, the ubiquitous nature of technology use and the many external influencing factors over which tutors have no control begin to emerge. As a research team, we feel privileged to have been allowed access to these very personal reflections and experiences. Despite the fact that the learners who took part in the LEX study represented a broad range of recent school leavers, adult returners, and work based learners, many of the emergent themes were common across all sectors, ages and stages of learning. In order to ensure mutual understanding of the topic, the research team were careful to encourage the learners to talk about their experiences in their own words. Only a small minority used the term ‘e-learning’, mainly because it had been introduced to them as such by their tutors. For most it was simply another method to help them learn. “To me its just learning, the fact that it’s online as opposed to in a classroom is irrelevant. It’s just another way of accessing it. It’s all just learning... it strikes me as quite old fashioned and quite quaint, but talking to other people they're like 'oh wow! It’s online! It’s e learning!' and I think it depends on where you're coming from what it means to you, but for me I just think of it as learning and I don't use the term.” (Rebecca, adult online learner) Defining ‘effective’ learners was always going to be problematic, and we made a deliberate decision to allow characteristics to emerge rather than impose any tutorinfluenced preconceptions of what this might mean. As the learners reflected on and interpreted their experiences, both positive and negative, the underlying themes gradually surfaced and were cross-referenced by the researchers at group level. The

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evidence gathered validates some of the issues which are already familiar in the research literature, but other, less well-researched themes have also come to the fore.

6. Characterising effective learners in an e-learning context
6.1 Learning and identity

Perhaps unsurprisingly, our findings show that technology rates as a relatively minor factor in the profiles of those who might describe themselves as effective learners in an e-learning context. Characteristics such as confidence in their ability to cope with life, learning and technology; the capacity to network with others through a variety of communication channels; highly effective time management skills; and most crucially, the skill to integrate and balance learning with work, leisure and family commitments are key. Boundaries between these different aspects of their lives were often blurred, and learning was seen as being very much part of their identity. “And it is very, it's quite difficult, you know [learning], that's, that's the whole point really isn't it. It's a bit of a challenge to yourself, you know.” (Vanessa, further education languages student) “But something like this [the internet] I guess it expands all your horizons in completely different ways and helps you to apply academic stuff to everyday life and see where current affairs and things fit into the academic.” (Emma, undergraduate business student) “I've even learned so much about myself since I've started doing it, you know about how driven I am probably, you know, and how, how much I do, you know, a pass or a merit would probably be adequate like but I do always find myself striving to go the extra mile, you know.” (Anne, further education estates management student)
6.2 Informal learning with technology

Learning with technology did not always have to take place in formal settings, and informal, often serendipitous learning, was also mentioned by interviewees. “I do think I learn outside the university through the internet because you can get websites now, Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, I’ve been on that recently and just so many facts I’ve picked up from that, just me being bored looking at things.” (Laura, first year undergraduate student) “I’ll usually like read [the newspaper] on-line and I never realised that I’m actually learning in a way, know what I mean, because … you’re learning about, like, the economy and like, what’s happening day to day and, like, politics and stuff and it never came to me that I was actually learning something when you’re reading the paper, know what I mean, but you are, so it was … ‘Oh I’m learning and I’m not aware of it’ [laughs].” (Lynsey, first year undergraduate student)

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“I have a Playstation and I’ve got a walkman, I’ve got MP3, those are the technologies I use quite a lot. I wrote in my Blog that I play the Playstation - you learn how to coordinate in the mind because you’re holding this thing and looking at something else, so … like children that grow up playing Playstations tend to be wise because they learn to respond more to situations, yeah, so that’s why I like playing Playstations.” (Dumisani, undergraduate marketing student) “I wanted to see what kind of Blogs were out there and just to really see what other things were available, never looked into that kind of thing on a PC before, so thought I'd give it a go.” (Paul, mature undergraduate student)
6.3 IT skills

Previous experience of IT is not necessarily a pre-requisite for being an effective elearner, neither is the type of technology used within a course (e.g. Moore & Aspen, 2004). What is more important is a willingness to learn. “I still wouldn't say I'm a genius but I know my way round a computer, I can use them, I'm quite adept at using them and I'm comfortable using them.” (Paul, mature undergraduate business student) “I'm beginning to rely less and less on other people showing me what to do. Instead of being afraid of technology on the computer, I'm beginning to learn well its not as bad as it seems, take your time, if you make a mistake it doesn't matter just do it again.” (Michele, adult learner on trade union online course) “It's the same way with learning to use computers and software packages ... It tends to be very hands-on and people like to just touch it and feel it and experience it, and it's like a friend of mine bought a new phone last week and she spent the entire day, she got the phone just exploring it, do you know, working out how everything works and what way you want it to work for you. It's very much an interactive touchy-feely thing.” (Emma, undergraduate business student) For some novices however, there was a perception that those who did have previous IT experience held an advantage, particularly for completely online courses. “I think you've got to be at a certain level to do an online course and how you get to that first, playing with it at home or going to a college to try and get access or even learn how to use a computer online, but you've got to have a certain level I think of computer knowledge to do it. ... What I learnt was that there were 37 of us on this course and you range from totally beginner, like myself, to really like IT specialist, so they had absolutely no problem and had a lot of confidence in talking to each other on discussion boards because they'd obviously done it before, so they had more of a rapport.” (Michele, adult learner on a trade union course) There was also recognition that the skill set required for e-learning differed from generic IT competencies. 10

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“I thought it would be OK because I'm so used to doing word processing ... and I'm really fast at typing and things so that wouldn't pose a problem for me at all. What I didn't realise was that I would need to go into the internet and so I was feeling quite confident but now I don't feel as confident about that.” (Focus group, FE social care day release learners) “Well basically up until that point all I had ever really done was email people and not online courses, it was just emailing people and generally going around on Ebay or things like that, not actually communicating in that way with anybody, so I found myself a bit out of my depth there.” (Michele, adult learner in online trade union course) And that a by-product of e-learning was a welcome enhancement of IT skill levels. “I think it’s really good because as you’re learning, I’m doing literacy and numeracy but as I’m learning about literacy and numeracy I’m picking things up that I maybe didn’t know before on the computer.” (Focus group, level 2 literacy learner)
6.4 Networking

Effective learners tend to be highly skilled networkers and often use the technology to pull in support when needed. Family members were often the first people to be approached for help. “Using, like, computers for your assignments and even mobile phones …, getting with your friends or even tutors, mobile phones have started coming in a lot….Just by using text messages maybe and saying, ’Do you know how to do this bit?’” (Richard, FE hospitality student) I tend to be a bit of a networker in general so I would go and ask people for help, like I've got a lot of friends who would be doing computer science degrees, things like that, they would help me out, or looking up things ... you can use the internet to self-teach, you can get…tutorials and things. (Emma, undergraduate business student) I just didn't feel I needed to know the inner workings of a computer, as long as it works I'm fine with that and if it breaks I give it to dad.” (Laura, first year undergraduate)

6.5 Age factors

There was also evidence that more mature learners felt that younger people had an advantage when it came to using technology.

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“... the kids know everything there is to know about new technology, you know, so if you've got a young person around then they would be able to show you everything there is to know about it.” (Focus group, FE social care students) “I think a lot of the stuff that younger people would find a lot easier I find harder, but then again I think to compensate for that I try harder” (Paul, mature undergraduate economics student) “I think younger ones adapt to it more quicker than what adults do, so like my eleven year old is a whiz on the computer and ... he comes up and corrects it and sorts it out. If I totally block it or something he just comes up and fixes it.” (Focus group, economics and customer care FE students) “I think it [MSN] is more a younger, you know, kids stuff.” (Jane, adult estates management student) The younger learners essentially confirmed this view. “...you just, you take it [the Internet] for granted because, well, our generation has sort of grown up with it so ... we just take it all for granted that, oh well, that's always been there and we'll just use it.” (Lynsey, first year Economics student) “ I personally enjoy the fact that we get to use computers because I enjoy working on computers and I'm always on the computer anyway, I've got a laptop and I'm always on the laptop anyway so it's… just part of every day life for me.” (Nick, final year business student) “… I'd use that [MSN] with my friends as well. I started using it when I went to Canada for like six months and it was useful for speaking to my friends from home and every now and again my mum would manage to get herself logged on… So it was good for that and it's one of those things, it's always up on the computer…” (Kirsten, postgraduate law student)

Effective e-learners therefore are flexible, resourceful, self-aware, and highly motivated. They generally remain un-phased when aspects of learning and/or technology do not proceed quite as expected as they have strong support networks and are adept at knowing when and how to use them.

7. Learner beliefs and intentions
7.1 Advantages and disadvantages of e-learning

Not all interviewees were entirely convinced of the benefits of e-learning, and several noted that they expected technology to be employed in a way that would be beneficial for their learning, rather than simply for the sake of convenience.

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“I just don't want books to be on the computer, I don't like that idea at all. Everything else, films and things like that ok, but books no, it creeps me out.” (Laura, first year economics student) “I don't really like to, just sort of go headlong into using something new because I always like to see what it is that, you know, what the new technology's going to do for me...” (Amanda, postgraduate law student) “I mean I’m someone who uses technology all the time and I don’t think we need all this. It’s nice but it’s not, we’re all motivated to study enough off black and white photocopied sheets, we don’t need swanky colours and fancy, you know, gimmicks.” (Nicola, postgraduate law student) “If I’m just on an information course then I just want the information and I don’t need all the nice fluffy bits round the edges, whereas if its not an information course it’s a sharing exercise so you need the fluffy bits [discussion and group activities] as well.” (Jenny, adult online learner) Others believed strongly that technology could support and enhance their learning, and was an essential part of their lives. “I'm addicted, it's the first thing I turn on in the morning before I even wake up and actually it's very, very bad. I think in the future people can't cope without their laptops. My main use of it is I guess social networking. It would be My Space and Messenger and e-mail things like that and then secondary would be information gathering in terms of like I said, my home page is the technology website and current affairs, news. I have alerts coming into me so I get information and then I use search engines for academic purposes.” (Emma, undergraduate Business student) “... and if you want to know anything just open the Google and go right there and search anything, that's a good thing.” (Focus group with adult ESOL learners) “Erm, I use the computer for the grammar, sometimes I do writing …. sometimes I go to the internet and see something for the shopping.” (Rehana, adult ESOL learner) “Because I have a hearing impairment sometimes I don’t find classroom environments easy to work in and I have other health issues … if I'm ill and I can’t go to a class then I've missed that lesson and I'm relying on somebody else giving me that information, whereas if I’m doing it online I can just go in tomorrow and I’m ok and I can catch up” (Jenny, adult online learner)

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7.2 Emotions

One theme which came across from many of the learners we spoke to was their strong emotional response to technology and to e-learning, including frustration, gratitude, fear and even love. “I use my laptop, I take it away, it's attached to me, I couldn't survive without it.” (Emma, undergraduate business student) “ … and I was lying on the beach with my iPod and it just had been through so much, like you remember lying on beach…with iPod. You remember on the plane…with iPod, so it was an emotional attachment, sad, but I loved that thing.” (Laura, first year undergraduate student) “Yeah well, basically, when I first went on and started to look at it I thought 'Oh my God, I don't know whether this [online learning] is for me?!', but then I thought, ‘ Calm down a bit and sit down and go through it step by step.’” (Michele, adult online learner in trade union course) “I think ... using certain kinds of technology is really good, like the internet ... in my opinion it’s a God-send because you can look at [the VLE] and that’s, like, a good way of communicating with ... all the students at the same time because you can ask each other for help on certain things with the discussion boards.” (Lynsey, undergraduate business student) “... what annoys me with this is that you have to swipe your card to get into the building, enter your password to get onto the intranet and then for every individual thing enter your password. So if I do it at home it’s all set up and I just press OK, but this time it asks me and I have to do it five times, ‘What is your password?’, and every time I’m like, ‘It’s still me, I’m not doing anything different!’” (Nicola, postgraduate law student)
7.4 Study and leisure

Several interviewees preferred to separate technology use into study and leisure activities, particularly when it came to their personal gadgets such as mobile phones and MP3 players, while others managed to combine them successfully. “I try and only do fun stuff at home and I don’t really know if I would want to have an iPod with like [learning] stuff on it, because then if you’re not doing work you feel guilty, but if you are doing work the temptation’s there to listen to more interesting things. I think it’s quite good just to separate them.” (Nicola, postgraduate law student) “I don’t really see like a mobile phone being very useful for education because that’s more just for friends unless you’re like phoning the university for something but erm, it’s mainly like a computer or the internet I think’s really beneficial, ... but I don’t know, I don’t think a mobile phone’s very wonderful or an MP3 player.” (Laura, first year undergraduate student)

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“I use my phone because its like a mobile internet to me because they can talk to me, they can SMS me, unlike the email, I need to go on the computer and open my mail box, but with the mobile phone I can get any communication any time I want. That’s the technology I use.” (Dumisani, undergraduate marketing student) “I was reading a review about my mobile phone ,it says that you can, like, record lectures and stuff with it and I … I was dubious about how good the quality would be on it and I was like right, what I’ll do is I’ll go in and I’ll just I’ll see how long I can record for and it comes out I can record for sixty minutes which is good because that’s the length of the lecture. So I went in and I decided right, I’ll record this lecture just to see what the quality’s like and if it picks up any other sounds and if the interference is bad or whatever but it turns out it was pretty good.” (Lynsey, first year undergraduate student)
7.5 Confidence and self-esteem

There was also substantial evidence that the use of technology had an impact on learners’ confidence and self-esteem. I am, yes, very much, so [confident], you know, and even at work, you know, I've been able to help people out, you know, maybe people that have problems or whatever and I've been able … to show them how to do different [things].” (Anne, FE estates management student) “I was working quite a lot with the computer both at home and at work before I started this so I wasn't a complete beginner to the computer, but I'm a lot more confident with Blackboard and the online learning now that the more I do it and the more I see it I've become more confident with doing that.” (Peter, day release social care student) “I’m pretty good with a computer anyway, but I mean for people like my mum … they find it very helpful because they weren’t very confident in using a computer before, but now they feel that its built up their confidence, which is something, it didn’t really apply to me, but it’s something I do think is good with using technology to learn”. (Donna, adult basic skills learner)
7.6 Tutor support

In many cases, tutor influence and human intervention were highlighted as key factors, and learners were very aware when tutors were not fully engaged, or if the elearning was not well integrated with face-to-face activities. “They still feel like they're completely divorced from each other [online and f2f work] because often the tutors don't know anything about the online projects, erm, so you can't really discuss them and they're really different issues that come up” (Cathy, postgraduate law student)

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“I think it depends on the teacher really….if they're on board with it a hundred and ten percent then you'll be included. If they're not then they won't use it and neither will you.” (Vanessa, HND languages student) “... the tutor was, like, ‘I've never seen this [online resource] before and I don't even know what it is and I hope I don't have to get involved in it’ .” (Alan, postgraduate business student) “Not all the tutors support Blackboard as well as each other, some of them are much better at it than others and when you become maybe comfortable with one tutor and he's extremely helpful on it, you sort of expect that from maybe some of the others but there's probably a couple who don't use it much at all.” (Focus group, FE students) “ I’d forgotten to say I was going away and I hadn’t logged in for just over a week and when I came home I had an email from [the tutor] that was like ‘Hi, you ok? Have you got problems accessing?’ So that kind of thing was really important as well.” (Jenny, adult online learner)

Beliefs, attitudes and intentions are as varied as the participants, and the themes highlighted here represent only a proportion of those which emerged. Nevertheless, they tell us that effective e-learners are generally positive about technology and are willing to engage with it, even when they do have some initial reservations. They have clear expectations on tutor involvement, hold strong views on how and why technology should be used, and most importantly, display very understandable emotional reactions to the technology and the way they’re expected to engage with it.

8. Learner strategies and behaviours
8.1 Fitting learning around life

As is already evident from the literature (e.g. Allan 2004,; Sweeney et al, 2004; Moore & Aspen, 2004), the flexible nature of e-learning is generally welcomed by learners, and this was another common aspect raised by interviewees, particularly the adult learners. Depending on their personal circumstances, they made full use of the technology to help them organise their study around other aspects of their lives. “I can do them [the online activities] anytime, anywhere. At home, at work. When I've got 10 minutes in between meetings, half an hour between other things, its just you can slot it in any day of the week, you don’t have to take a whole chunk out of your day to attend a course.” (Rebecca, adult work-based online learner) “I think that’s very helpful, we get to work through that at our own pace and it’s all on the web page at the college. It’s good that everything’s on there so I can access it from

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home, I can access it from work, I can access it in here [the college] and [the VLE] tends to be quite well laid out and quite user-friendly.” (Joe, day-release social care student) “I had to leave early last week because my child minder was off and I had to pick up my son from the nursery so I missed the afternoon lecture so I went onto the message board and asked for information about what I’d missed. People were kind enough to log on … and they let me know what groups I was in and what the presentation was about and things like that… “ (Peter, day-release social care student) “I'll be able to do it in my work if it's quiet, you know, just take the laptop in and do it at night time, I do four nights on a nightshift so once the young people [in the care home] are settled, hopefully it should, it'll help in that sense.” (Focus group, FE students)
8.2 Approaches to study

Approaches to study were varied, but for many learners, the complex nature of their lives was reflected in how they used technology to study, communicate with peers, family and friends, and engage in leisure activities, often all at the same time. This is very different from the traditional quiet study mode which tends to be supported within institutions. “I can't turn on the computer without having like at least the TV on in the background, I never usually watch it, its just there in the corner of my eye and if something interesting comes on screen I'll kind of glance at it for a couple of minutes, but I've never actually been able to take in a story line while I'm on the computer. It doesn't overtake the computer, the computer definitely overtakes the television”. (Laura, first year undergraduate student) “I was writing my ... project, I was doing my Blog and doing my homework for economics all at the same time and the funny thing was, I mean I was sitting there and ... listening to music in the background and having a laugh to myself thinking who says men can't multitask!” (Paul, mature undergraduate student) “... the other day I wrote an essay at home, I suppose I would do that for about an hour, an hour and fifteen minutes and then if I got bored or need a break or something then maybe I’ll take a break by going on MySpace or Hotmail and checking what had happened and MSN, you know, that kind of thing and then go back to it.” (Nicola, postgraduate law student) Many reported being very aware of the distractions offered by technology, and for some a campus-based study mode was still most effective. For some, it was the only way they could access computers.

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“I mean I do have like a computer at home and I use it a lot but sometimes you get distracted like if you’re on-line and then oh I’ll just put messenger on a wee while and like two hours later and you’re like [laughs]. Yeah I find it’s easier to learn in ... a learning institute than it is at home.” (Lynsey, first year economics student) “I find it a bit difficult using the internet all the time because I find that you get waylaid and other things pop up and ... I find I'm distracted, very distracted, you know, that I find that you just can't access the exact thing you're looking for and I spend so much time trawling, surfing the net looking for the information that I'm looking for, you know, the specific stuff that I need.” (Focus group, FE students) “When I need a computer, which I do quite a lot, I have to come on campus, I have no other choice. If I had a computer I think it would be easier and on average I would be spending more hours than I do on the internet. When I want the internet I have to come here because I don't have a computer ... and also with the library, the demand for computers is very high, there's peak hours where you can't get a computer, it becomes so competitive.” (Dumisani, first year marketing student)
8.3 Influence of family

There were many instances where family relationships were reported as important aspects of learning. “Its actually helping me with my kids as well because as my eldest son, like I said, he wants to do games design, here. But now we can discuss things and look at things together…. but him and I can discuss things now without it going right over my head.” (Paul, mature undergraduate economics student) “…my Mum did a course in Microsoft Word and Excel, like, at college, and she taught me how to use, like, all the detailed versions, then when I was at school I learned bits and that but my mum was the main teacher to me of the processes.” (Alan, final year undergraduate student) “I think it helps that I come along or I joined up rather with my Mum and another one of our colleagues. We joined up around the same sort of time, they joined up a little bit before me and kind of got me into it.” (Donna, basic skills student, learning centre) “I figured it out and taught me dad [laughs] … generally … I prefer to figure things out and because that's just one of me interests and it's the kind of person I am.” (Nick, final year undergraduate) Although home circumstances sometimes had a detrimental effect on access to technology.

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“The only bad thing I've got is if I'm sitting on the computer guaranteed the kids want on it and then they're like oh can I get on, can I get on so in the end I just get up and leave it and let them go on it.” (Focus group, FE students) “But I think I maybe prefer to come to the learning centre any how because if I was at home and I was doing it, the distractions I had at home, I might do it and not take it in as well”. (Donna, adult learner in hospital learning centre)

8.4 Learning activities

Student perceptions of online discussions are well represented in the literature (e.g. Sweeney et al, 2004; Rourke & Anderson, 2002; Salmon, 2002), and are often key features of the e-learning experience. The interviewees reported mixed views on the use of discussion forums, as well as other types of learning activities and pedagogical approaches, including for example: Online group work “It’s dependant on other people or the rest of the class catching up on some of the activities, you can’t do without everybody else for instance. I find that slightly irritating because why I go online is that you should be able to go at your own pace but it doesn’t always work out like that, depending on how the course is set up.” (Rebecca, adult work-based online learner) “…there were two lads on one campus and me and [name] on another campus, like it’s obviously quite hard to communicate where to meet so we use the internet, e-mails daily to arrange like group meetings, group reports and then … if it’s my turn to put the work together they like e-mail me their work and I put it all together so we obviously use the internet a lot.” (Alan, undergraduate business student) Online learning logs/e-portfolios “But it’s easy to spend five minutes at the end of the day typing that in as, you know, it’s easier to do that than sit down and get paper or pen and actually think about it, it’s most just kind of typewrite your thoughts, that’s why they tell us that well it’s kind of like a diary but we’ve not to go [laughs] and have a rant or anything.” (Nicola, postgraduate student) “Yes, it’s probably the most enjoyable bit I'd done [learning log]. It's your own learning, it's all what you write which is ... more interesting to you. ... I think it's because ... you can relate it to your own experiences and ... you've got a free role, you can write whatever you want and ... there's no wrong answer cos it's how you interpret it.” (Nick, undergraduate business student)

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“It [the learning log] does change the way you think about things and ... it did make you take time out to think more about just the world in general.” (Emma, undergraduate business student) Video lectures “Sometimes they had little asides and anecdotes which was, which was funny the first time in helping to get to understand it but when it gets to actual studying for an exam you don’t need anecdotes or you don’t need to laugh at it, you just read [the transcript].” (Nicola, postgraduate student) “… I find my concentration's not so good, do you know what I mean, because you know, you're sitting there on your own [watching a video lecture] and you're sort of looking at the time and thinking, ‘Oh well I really want a cup of tea’ and thinking ‘Well, I'd better watch this’ Obviously if you're in a lecture theatre you know, you have to be there for an hour and that's it finished…. (Amanda, postgraduate student) Online discussions “I haven’t found this [online discussions] a positive experience …I didn’t feel that posting things on discussion boards, that we got the feedback, people weren't feeding back like they do in a classroom.” (Michele, adult online learner) “They were really useful and they were good not only for looking back over the topics because you’d have one at the end of each exercise, not only at looking back at what other people had done and what they’d found, but it was also good if you got into one and you were thinking ‘well I’m not quite sure what I'm supposed to be doing’ or ‘I’ve read the instructions and I’ve read it that you can do it this way or this way’ so going and looking in the forums was useful.” (Jenny, adult online learner) “You can also if you want, have a discussion like over [the VLE] but I tend not to use it because well the teachers take a while to get back and it's not very personal cos everyone can read what you write.” (Alan, undergraduate business student) Assessment “I preferred it [online testing] because, erm, when you've got an exam and it's on paper it tends to be all black and white, erm, just in a list form, I suppose and it's not very interesting or eye catching. I know that's not what exams are for but it always helps like on the computer you've got like visual aids like little pictures or something just to like break up the writing so it makes it a little bit easier for you.” (Focus group, hospital learning centre) “[E-learning] doesn't help you in your exam periods because it's not a traditional form of assessment so if you're teaching over the internet you should also include like

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literature skills you need for exams. It's harsh for [the tutor] to say you've got to do this piece of course work on the internet and use the internet and type it up and use these specialist programmes, but then your exam's something you've got to write about ... so I think that's a disadvantage.” (Alan, final year undergraduate student)
8.5 Control and choice

Control and choice were key themes throughout and related to many aspects of the e-learning experience, such as how and where learners studied, the types of technology they used, personalising their virtual and physical environments, and in their approach to learning activities. This sometimes subversive type of behaviour was reported as being mostly invisible to tutors. “So my [group] we always text each other and say oh are you coming in at this time or we’ll meet at this time and so it looks on the face of it from the university website that we haven’t been communicating all year but we have, it’s just outside of that [discussion] board” (Nicola, postgraduate law student) This fuller exchange is also illuminating: Interviewer: “… you’ve got the [online] calendar there where you arrange meetings and set deadlines et cetera?” Interviewee: “Hmm mmm, well in theory we’re kind of [laughs] well … we’re kind of keeping them happy by having that pretend meeting up there because we don’t meet every Thursday.” Interviewer: “Right so this is for the benefit of the tutors…rather than yourselves?” Interviewee: “Yes, yes and we don’t use that calendar for anything. I mean if you look, erm, at January, there’s probably a few meetings, yes we said every Tuesday and Thursday we had a general meeting but we didn’t. We did it, we’re more flexible than that, but if we had nothing in the calendar they would think that we weren’t doing anything.” Interviewer: “So you’ve got to make it look as if you’re doing it?” Interviewee: “Oh we are, just not on a Tuesday and Thursday.” “You can choose I find, you can interact as much as you like or you can do the minimum, particularly if its activity based, so if you've got to prove that you've been in the discussion forums you just keep that to a minimum to prove you've done it.” (Rebecca, adult learner on online trade union course) “... I mean that’s [mobile phone] a useful thing because, like, my friend can record lectures too so ... we’ve made like a promise that if one of us isn’t there we’ll record the lecture for them and send them it later cos then you can catch up with, like, your notes and stuff.” (Lynsey, first year undergraduate economics student)

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Having control over their learning environment was clearly important for many learners, and in the case of those with a disability, an essential factor. “I find it very, very distracting being in the library as well, I don't think that I've enough, you know, I need to set everything out and all, I feel that I'm too close proximity to other people to be able to use the computer and I feel it very, no I prefer to do my studying at home.” (Jane, FE estates management student) “You can change your colours [on screen] as well if you go to ‘modify’…. it's nice to change it …. rather than look at something that somebody else has set. “ (Richard, FE Hospitality student) “You have your own set up at home, one of my friends has thalidomide but she can sit and type for hours because she’s got it set up so that it’s all here for her. .... so it’s nice if you can do it in your environment that’s set up for you and that you’re comfortable in.” (Jenny, adult online learner)
8.6 Cost factors

Cost effectiveness was also a key factor for many, particularly in comparing books and the internet, but this was also tempered by a realisation that online information may be less reliable. “Less expensive as well. Less expensive than going buying books and books on this, you can just go to the internet and it's there basically at the touch o' a button.” (Focus group, day release social care student) “...when doing research its torture if it's a bad website and sometimes I'm finding on essays and things you've got to add lots of references and things and they're saying use books, but books cost money so the internet is the main thing that we end up using and just trawling through all these websites, you never know if the knowledge is actually good or not, so I'm always worried that I'm handing something in which is completely just one guys opinion, but it looks really professional, but maybe he's a complete liar but he's made a really pretty web page [laugh].” (Laura, first year undergraduate economics student) Based on the evidence gathered here, effective learners have strong views on how and why technology is used for their learning, and are prepared to adapt activities, environments and technologies to suit their own circumstances. They have a very sophisticated awareness of their own preferred approaches, and those of others. The influence and support of family and friends play a major role, and control and choice are key factors.

9. Developing a conceptual framework
In order to make sense of the rich data collected and to provide a higher level conceptual framework within which the learner experience can be placed, we asked

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ourselves how factors influencing the learner experience might best be categorised. Following lengthy debate and discussion among the research team, and with helpful guidance from Terry Mayes, project consultant, we agreed that it was necessary to maintain the learner perspective by focusing on two main questions: o o What factors influence what I do with my learning? What factors influence how I feel about my learning?

This led to the creation of a series of five high level categories relating to life, formal learning, technology, people, and time, within which a further five dimensions encompassing the main influencing factors are situated, i.e. o o o o o control identity feelings relationships abilities

In keeping with the ethos of the study, each of these is evidenced by the learners’ own words. The grid below provides an example of the framework with a sample quote to illustrate each theme. A more comprehensive version of this as a concept map, which includes a much wider range of quotes, accompanies this report. Please see appendix 8 for a representation of the map.

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Control It's the same way with learning to use computers and software packages… It tends to be very hands-on and people like to just touch it and feel it and experience it and it's like a friend of mine bought a new phone last week and she spent the entire day she got the phone just exploring it, do you know, working out how everything works and what way you want it to work for you. It's very much an interactive touchy-feely thing.

Identity

Feelings

Relationships

Abilities

I'm beginning to rely less and less on other people showing me what to do, instead of being afraid of technology on the computer, I'm beginning to learn well its not as bad as it seems, take your time, if you make a mistake it doesn't matter just do it again.

Because to me a … design is a creation like a painting or you know, drawing and if I did it on the computer it would sort of lose, I think it would look too clinical.

You get a wee boost the first time you do something, you get a ‘oh right, I've done that myself’ and then …so my [group] we you get that wee always text each other confidence boost and say oh are you and you'll go to the coming in at this time or next step, you we’ll meet at this time know. The first and so it looks on the face time you kind of of it from the university hit a brick wall you website that we haven’t kind of, you know, been communicating all I did it too and you year but we have, it’s just go ‘aargh’ but outside of that board… when you do it the first time you think ‘I done that’ and then move onto the next thing, it's definitely worth it. Me, I personally erm enjoy the fact that we get to use computers because My mum erm and one of I enjoy working on our other colleagues they computers and I'm also come learning here always on the as well and sometimes computer anyway, we do all come at the I've got a laptop same time so we do find and I'm always on it that we help each other. the laptop anyway so it's, it's, it's just part of every day life for me.

Technology Life

[The learning log] does change The only bad thing the way you I've got is if I'm I figured it out and think about taught me dad, which things and it sitting on the computer guaranteed generally what I do is made you, I the kids want on it personally I just like I guess you were and then they're like prefer to figure things asking me about oh can I get on, can I out and because that's time issues, it get on so in the end I just one of me interests did make you just get up and leave and it's the kind of take time out to it and let them go on person I am. think more it about just the world in general... Mobile phones again another way of communicating because everyone has You can also if you a mobile phone on want, have a them. Erm both, a discussion like over mixture of both [text & [the VLE] but I tend voice], me texting's a not to use it because bit lousy so I don't text well the teachers take back straight away so a while to get back I'd rather just ring and it's not very people… Me girlfriend personal cos has a go at me for that everyone can read as well, it takes me like what you write three hours to text back so I use like mobile phone conversations.

… somebody would know how to do one thing and someone else would know how to do I haven’t found something else, you this a positive know, so you're kind of experience …I getting people, different didn’t feel that people, yes and you were posting things kind of pulling in on discussion anybody else's, boards that we everybody else's got the feedback, expertise or what little people weren't knowledge or more feeding back like knowledge they had or, they do in a you know, they maybe classroom. only knew one thing and you knew another and you were able to swap and share.

…when I woke up this morning phone call nine o'clock cos someone were stuck with sommat on his iPod and I helped him and I've been helping someone with one of their memory sticks, they got a bit stuck on it so…

People

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Technology makes it a lot easier for me to learn, if I didn't have access to the internet I think I wouldn't be at the point where I've been able to pass some subjects, just, I don't know if I didn't have technology I think essays and things would seem like a big challenge and giant challenges I'm more likely to put off till the last minute and then panic over, so technology makes things seem a lot simpler, I'm more willing to give it my time, to get through them because it just seems like oh ten minutes that'll be fine...

Well I mostly enjoy it. I think learning should Erm the learning log is be enjoyable. … that's where you Just there's lots use the internet to, it's of different ways like an internet diary of learning, it's of yourself and your quite hard to own learning define learning. experience and the Just do like journey you've took reading through that process. something or you can learn like doing things.

I enjoy mixtures really of both group work and individual work … I think it’s good because it improves your team work, oral communications, whereas if you’re doing work on your own it’s just yourself and your own opinions.

I think learning for me in this particular course that I'm doing is just kind of reinforcing what I'm doing in my work practice, it's taking it that step further and there's quite a bit of theory that's behind the practical.

Formal learning

Well I suppose I'm a mother of three and I work …we get to work But personally if the as well and I'm through that at our group is on 8 and I'm doing the course own pace and it's all only on 6, I'd rather be part time so I do on the web page at on 8 and whether find it quite the college. It's good that's because I'd been challenging at that everything's on away or because I times, you know there so I can access couldn't get online or and you've three it from home, I can whatever, I'll then go assignments access it from work, I and put the extra time three weeks in a can access it in here… in so that I catch up. row like the pressure's on, you know. Control Identity Feelings

I come along here one day a week. It's quite hard… Erm when I was at university I was single, stayed myself, found it quite easy to find time to get the work done. Now three years down the line I'm married with a boy of four years old and I find it quite hard to find the time to sit and do course work erm, other than actually getting out the house, going to a library, it's hard to sit in front of my computer. Relationships

Yes, yes, the more time you can put in the more you will get out of it.

Time

Abilities

10. Conclusions and recommendations
10.1 On the findings

While the broad scope of the project across widely differing sectors posed operational difficulties, this breadth proved an opportunity rather than an obstacle. We found that variations between learners within sectors are at least as important as variation across sectors; that once we look at learner experiences and preferences over issues such as control and choice in learning, confidence in and use of personal technology, and attitudes towards networking and working in groups, then similarities between learners readily cross sector boundaries. This is perhaps for some a surprising conclusion. However similarity in learner experiences is clearly being reinforced by a number of strong trends including the rapid spread of personal information technology, the explosive growth of social networking, and the

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increasing demand on learners to fit learning into pressurised lives, often combining learning with full or part time work. Returning to the original research questions therefore, responses based on the LEX findings may be summarised as follows: • What might characterise effective learners in an e-learning context? Characterising effective e-learners proves to be as complex and problematic an exercise as in any other learning context. The following aspects emerged strongly: the important role of meta-cognition, where a learner displays a sound understanding of how they learn and the impact learning has on their own identity, leading to high levels of motivation and a positive attitude to both learning and technology; the ability to capitalise on the affordances of technology for informal as well as formal learning; the willingness to develop the skill set required, including IT and communication skills, in order to fully engage with e-learning; the confidence to overcome both pedagogical and technical difficulties; and most crucially, the capacity to take advantage of the technology for networking with friends, peers, family and tutors in order to build up the personal support structures necessary for their learning. • What beliefs and intentions do effective learners display? Effective learners have sophisticated views on e-learning, with divided opinions on how it might advantage or disadvantage their studies. They believe that technology should be used to enhance their learning and are clear that they will not engage with it if they feel it is not to their personal benefit. They display strong emotional reactions to e-learning of which tutors are generally unaware, and which often impact on their attitudes and motivation. For most, technology is an integral part of their lives and they feel particularly strong attachments to their personal gadgets such as internet enabled mobile phones, MP3 players and laptops, which they use to support their learning, often experimenting with innovative usage. Learning with technology clearly has an impact on their confidence and self-esteem, influencing how they interact with others. They expect their tutors to be as fully engaged and adept with e-learning as themselves, and are highly aware of any less than enthusiastic involvement. Tutor engagement and learner attitudes are closely interlinked. • What strategies and behaviours do effective learners display? Effective learners are adept at taking advantage of the technology to fit learning into their often complex lives. They are skilful in multi-tasking with technology, although at the same time very aware of its inherent distractions. Boundaries between using technology for learning and for leisure purposes are becoming increasingly blurred. The internet is the first port of call for information, with libraries and books taking second place. They have strong personal views on different types of learning activities and how technology may or may not support them in these. They have the confidence to employ their own preferred strategies in choosing and using technology for learning, in personalising their virtual and physical environments, and in engaging with the learning tasks set by their tutors.

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Despite differences in gender, age, educational background and learning context, the learners’ attitudes and opinions display marked similarities in several aspects. Indeed, as the research team discovered, attempting to match learner quotes with learner profiles proves to be a salutary exercise in highlighting the sometimes false assumptions and generalisations practitioners tend to make when designing, teaching or supporting e-learning. New ground has been broken through the exclusive focus on the learner voice and the development of a robust methodology for recoding and analysis. This has allowed new themes to emerge, providing a focus for future research. Two aspects which did not appear in the original Scoping Study are of particular interest: • The first is the extent of inter-generational influence which was reported by the learners. Once again defying stereotypes of age and technology use, this influence and support appeared to work bilaterally across the different age groups. E-learning was often found to be a catalyst in bridging generations, thus increasing confidence, boosting motivation levels and enhancing family relationships. The second is the increased engagement demonstrated by learners where they were presented with choices and an element of control over their learning. Heightened enthusiasm was evident in their voices as they described how they made decisions over technologies, learning environments and approaches to study. Indeed, where these opportunities were not available, learners took delight in describing the strategies they had adopted to circumvent recommended guidelines. There was clear evidence of the impact on motivation which such a strong sense of ownership provides.

Other themes elicited by the LEX study would also merit further research: • • • • the ‘underworld’ of digital communication among learners the role of informal learning with technology and its impact on mainstream learning the emotional aspect of e-learning and its relationship to attitudes, motivation, confidence and self-esteem the mismatch between learner expectations of e-learning and institutional provision and support

10.2 On the process

We quickly discovered that learners are ready and willing to talk about their experiences of learning, technology and life and that any initial hesitation can be overcome if an appropriate approach is used. At various points in the study we were advised that learners may be unwilling to give or talk about their views and that this could cause difficulties for the project. We accept that a study seen as an evaluation exercise – whether of courses, technology, or tutor - could well have caused some reluctance. However the use of the modified IPA approach meant that this problem did not arise. The use of ‘Interview plus’ also helped. Learners from all the sectors we visited were forthcoming, articulate and often frank about their experience and 27

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views. The learners were from wide range of backgrounds and a number did not have English as their first language. Learners are indeed experts on their own experience as we believe LEX shows. A study which focuses exclusively on the learner voice can reveal new and often unexpected issues that have not figured prominently in other types of research. Studies like this may suggest areas and issues which could be followed up by other methods – a large scale survey of use of personalised technology might be one example. Perhaps one weakness of the IPA methodology with its strong emphasis on the individual lived experience is in the area of comparative analysis, making it more difficult to draw real comparisons between, for example, learner experiences in the HE, FE and ACL sectors, or between younger and more mature learners. It does however draw attention to themes which can again be followed up in further studies. The LEX study generated a huge amount of rich data. The outputs produced so far represent a snapshot – even though a substantial one – of the issues we were confronted with in the data. Further avenues for analysis have inevitably been curtailed due to the timing of the project. Our conclusion is that a major project of this type which breaks new ground and produces a large amount of data can only with difficulty be confined to a one year period. LEX data collection took place at a time when great changes are clearly taking place in the use of personal technology and online social networking. These changes are clearly evident in the themes described in the project outputs. They were not fully anticipated in the project design. The transformation that is taking place in the way people use technology in everyday life – for communicating, building networks, getting information, and much else is profoundly affecting how technology for learning is seen. Whereas five years ago VLEs were seen by some learners as challenging and at the forefront, at least some now see them as ‘quaint’ to use the expression of one of the LEX learners. However the location of the study in a period of rapid change in use of technology was not a problem for LEX. Perhaps learner experience focused studies of this kind may be in fact a highly suitable method for highlighting complex issues involved in technology and life. LEX shows that in spite of the complexities learners are articulate on these issues.
10.3 Recommendations

Our recommendations flow from the conclusions outlined above.
1

LEX has shown the value of studies which focus exclusively on the learner experience. We would recommend that JISC endorse the value of such studies and plan to incorporate this element into future programmes. Personal technology and social networking are fast emerging issues for elearning and are issues which came through strongly in LEX. JISC may wish to consider giving these priority in the design of future studies of the learner experience. Other interesting areas which came through from the findings can also be suggested for further study, such as generational influences on use, understanding and support of technology; learners’ feelings on accessibility, 28

2

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LEX Final Report, August 2006

control and personalisation of technology; learners’ use of their everyday technologies for e-learning.
4

While there are inevitable funding restraints, JISC and partner bodies should seek further opportunities for cross-sectoral studies such as LEX. In practice a one year study imposed several constraints, given problems of start-up, contact development, and academic timetables. Future studies of this type should be of longer duration to allow for such issues.

5

A key purpose of the LEX study was to create materials and resources that by reflecting learner voices would be of real assistance to course designers, tutors and support staff making use of ICT. These materials will be released in a set of short guides that accompany this report. The accompanying methodology report will also provide guidance for practitioners with practical tips on carrying out similar studies with their own learners.

Acknowledgements
We are grateful to all those who helped us with this research study, including the JISC Pedagogy Strand Programme Manager, Sarah Knight , consultant Helen Beetham, and the Learner Experience Scoping Study and Synthesis team comprising Dr. Rhona Sharpe, Greg Benfield, Ellen Lessner, and Eta de Cicco. The support and guidance of Professor Terry Mayes of Glasgow Caledonian University, LEX consultant, has been extremely valuable, as has the input from Dr. Paul Flowers, also of Glasgow Caledonian University, who presented two workshops for the team on IPA methodology and shared his experiences of applying it. We particularly appreciate the assistance of all the tutors and support staff who enthusiastically promoted the study to learners in their institutions and who assisted with background information, access to learners and administrative aspects. Above all, we would like to express our thanks to all the learners who took time to share so openly with us their thoughts, views and feelings on their learning experiences.

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LEX Final Report, August 2006

Author details
Linda Creanor is a senior lecturer (e-learning) at Glasgow Caledonian University. She teaches, develops and supports e-learning, as well as contributing to GCU’s professional development programme. She has been involved in a range of national and international e-learning projects as a researcher, designer, evaluator and consultant. She is currently Vice Chair of the Association of Learning Technology (ALT), becoming Chair in September 2006. Email: l.creanor@gcal.ac.uk, Web: http://www.learningservices.gcal.ac.uk/deelta/creanor.html Kathryn Trinder is a lecturer (e-learning), also at Glasgow Caledonian University. With a background in visual communications and technologies she was previously self-employed in the video & multi media production industry. She now teaches and is involved in research in e-learning; supporting staff in the development of teaching & learning materials, learning technologies & pedagogies; and staff development. Email: k.trinder@gcal.ac.uk, Web: http://www.learningservices.gcal.ac.uk/deelta/trinder.html

Doug Gowan is Chief Executive of the Open Learning Partnership, an educational charity with trustee membership from three further education colleges based in north London. The OLP was established in 1997 and specialises in developing all aspects of e-learning, Moodle services, learner surveys, connectivity, mobile and wireless access, online qualifications, learning centre capacity building, staff training and consultancy on project management. Email: doug.gowan@olp.org.uk, Web: http://www.olp.org.uk/ Carol Howells is an e-learning developer, also of the Open Learning Partnership, and has 11 years experience of designing, developing, and supporting e-learning for a wide range of learners and tutors. She has extensive online course design, VLE administration and teaching experience in Internet studies, web design, ICT and tutor training. Email: carol.howells@olp.org.uk Web: http://www.olp.org.uk/

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References
Allan, B. (2004). E-learners' experiences of time, Proceedings of Networked Learning Conference, Lancaster, pp341-347. Aspden L. and Helm, P. (2004) Researching Networked Learning: Critically Reviewing an Adaptive Evaluation, Proceedings of Networked Learning Conference, Lancaster, pp356-362. Elliot, R., Fischer, C.T., & Rennie, D.L. (1999), Evolving guidelines for publication of qualitative research studies in psychology and related fields, British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 38, 215-299. Entwistle, N., McCune, V. and Hounsell, J. (2002). Approaches to Studying and Perceptions of University Teaching-Learning Environments: Concepts, Measures and Preliminary Findings. ETLProject, Universities of Edinburgh, Coventry and Durham. Enhancing Teaching and Learning Environments in Undergraduate Courses Occasional Report 1, September 2002, available online at http://www.ed.ac.uk/etl/docs/ETLreport1.pdf. Flowers, P. (2005), Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, Workshop presentation, 8th November, Glasgow Caledonian University, Jones C., Asensio M., Goodyear P., Hodgson V., Steeples C. (2001) Networked Learning in Higher Education Project: Final Report on the Field Studies, University of Lancaster. Available online at: http://www.lancs.ac.uk/users/edres/research/csalt/networklearn/ Mason, R. and Weller, M. (2000). Factors affecting student satisfaction on a web course. Education at a distance. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 16(2), 173-200. Retrieved on 3rd June 2005 from the World Wide Web: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/ajet/ajet16/mason.html Moore and Aspen, l. (2004). 'Coping, adapting, evolving: the student experience of elearning.' Library and Information Update, Sheffield Hallam University Reid, K. Flowers, P. & Larkin, M. (2005), Exploring Lived Experience, The Psychologist, 18, 1, 20-23. Rourke, L. and Anderson, T. (2002). 'Exploring social interaction in computer conferencing.' Journal of Interactive Learning Research 13(3), 257-273 Salmon, G. (2002). E-tivities: the key to active online learning. London, Kogan Page Sharpe R., Benfield G., Lessner E. & DeCicco E. (2005), Scoping Study for the Pedagogy strand of the JISC e-Learning Programme, Available online at http://www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/scoping%20study%20final%20r eport%20v4.1.doc

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Sweeney, J., O'Donoghue, T. and Whitehead, C. (2004). 'Traditional face-to-face and web-based tutorials: a study of university students' perspectives on the roles of tutorial participants.' Teaching in Higher Education 9(3). July 2004, 311-323 Timmis, S., O’Leary R., Cai C., Harrison C., Weedon E., Trapp A., Alexander S., Jacobs N., Cook J. (2004) SOLE project: Thematic Report on Student and Tutor Roles and Relationships, University of Bristol, available online at http://sole.ilrt.bris.ac.uk/findings.html

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Appendices Appendix 1 - Interview Schedule
LEX Interview Schedule (Use for interviewer guidance only) Can you tell me what learning means to you? (e.g. challenging, enjoyable, informal, formal,)

What’s important to you about learning? (e.g. personal satisfaction, qualifications, career, skills)

When someone asks, how do you describe how you’re learning?

Tell me what you think about using technology for learning?

Tell me how using technology has affected how you learn. (e.g. finding information, communication, time and place of study etc. Positive & negative examples?)

Tell me how you feel about trying out new kinds of technologies? (confidence levels, overcoming problems)

Tell me about your use of technology in your everyday life. (Move on to artefact at this stage and follow up some of these points in more detail)

Final question: Would you describe yourself as an effective learner? Why? Why not?

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LEX Final Report, August 2006

Appendix 2 - Focus Group Interview Schedule

LEX Focus Group Agenda (Before session starts, fill out permission forms and learner profiles)

1. Welcome and introduction to the project (5 mins) 2. Paired introductions (10 mins) 3. Main session questions (Use for interviewer guidance only)

Question1 - What’s good about using technology to learn? Question 2 - What’s bad about using technology to learn? Question 3 - How does it compare with traditional learning? Question 4 - How do you fit learning into your life? Does technology help or not? Question 5 - If you could change one thing about your learning what would it be? Any final thoughts? End session, give out book tokens, take photos.

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LEX Final Report, August 2006

Appendix 3 - Organisational letter LEX
Dear ****** LEX project –the learner experience of e-learning (JISC) Thank you for your interest in the LEX project. We greatly appreciate the support of your institution for this new area of e-learning research. This letter explains the background to the project. Further details of the project can be found at http://www.jisc.ac.uk/elp_lex.html. Under its ‘E-Learning and Pedagogy’ programme JISC is funding a national research study into how learners experience e-learning. The research is being carried out by Glasgow Caledonian University and the Open Learning Partnership and covers all post 16 education sectors and all four UK countries. The research is not an evaluation study and will not examine the effectiveness of any course materials or support and tutoring systems. The emphasis in the research is entirely on how learners view the use of technology in their experience of learning, and how this may compare for example to their use of technology in everyday life. In the research reports we will acknowledge the valuable contribution made by organisations whose learners are participating in the study. All learners will be asked to sign a permission statement authorising their views to be quoted, or withholding such authorisation.

If you need to contact us about the project our email addresses are shown below

Yours sincerely

Linda Creanor l.creanor@Gcal.ac.uk Glasgow Caledonian University Doug Gowan doug.gowan@olp.org.uk the Open Learning Partnership Carol Howells carol.howells@olp.org.uk the Open Learning Partnership Kathy Trinder k.trinder@gcal.ac.uk Glasgow Caledonian University

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Appendix 4 - Learner Profile LEX
Please select an answer for each category. For some questions you can choose more than one answer.
Gender Age Band 16-24 25-34 35-54 55-64 65+ First Language English Welsh Other language (please state)

Female Male

Your age when you left full time education 16 or under 17-19 20-24 25+ Still in full time education Employment Employed full time – 30 hours+ Employed part time Not employed but seeking employment Not employed and not seeking employment Education

a. I am in Full time education Part time education Not in education b. I am educated to – School level Further Education level Higher Education level Postgraduate level Computer use a. Do you use a computerAt home? At work? In a college, university or learning centre? Elsewhere (please state)

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LEX Final Report, August 2006

b. How often do you normally use a computer? Every day Every week Occasionally

Never
c. How would you describe your computer skills? Expert user Confident user Partly confident user Unconfident user Non-user d. How often do you normally use the internet or email? Every day Every week Occasionally Never Technology Which of these products do you use frequently? mobile phone handheld computer (e.g. PDA, Blackberry, Palmtop) laptop computer digital camera scanner other (please state) Learning technology Before this course, have you had experience of any of the following as part of your learning activities? (you may choose more than one) A course delivered completely online A course delivered partly online + face-to-face sessions Electronic whiteboard Course materials on computer Computer based assessments or tests Online discussion board Using video and audio files Videoconferencing Email Learning with mobile devices (e.g. mobile phone, PDA) No, this is my first experience of using technology for learning Other technologies (please state)

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Appendix 5 - Consent form
All participants were required to complete this form.

LEX Interview permission statement
_______________ has told me about the LEX project which is researching the views of learners about their use of technology in learning. I give permission for my views to be recorded and to be used in publications from the research study, and I understand that they will not be used for any other purposes. When my statements are quoted in the research papers I would like (circle one):

• • •

to be quoted by name to be quoted with a pseudonym, rather than my real name to be quoted anonymously

This permission includes use of (circle all that apply):

• • •

quoted words voice recording photograph

Signed

Name

Date

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LEX Final Report, August 2006

Appendix 6 - Details of sampling
• • Focus groups and interviews Participating Institutions

1.1 Interviews and Focus groups carried out

Course /institution/ learners
Adult part time learners on TUC union representatives course – 3 interviews Adult part time work based and community learners – 2 focus groups Adult part time learner in hospital learning centre – 1 interview

Mode of learning/ICT
Fully online, no face to face elements. UK – wide course

Artefact used
Reflective discussion forum for all learners

How learner was chosen
Discussion with tutor regarding effective learners plus our own judgment from learner participation in online forum. Focus group was advertised in learning centres. Tutors from centres worked with us to organise. Selected by us after a focus group. 1 learner was selected for follow up interview. A few volunteered and the interviewee was chosen on the range of subjects studied and the fact that she had done online examinations. Focus group was advertised to ESOL class. Tutors from college worked with us to organise. Selected by us after a focus group. Selected mainly on the basis of how good their English was and tutor recommendation Tutors identified students for their use of technology,, range of ages, range of curriculum areas.

Personalised learning, drop-in access to centre, online tests Personalised learning, online tests in literacy

Focus group - N/A

Learning centre environment

Adult ESOL learners – 1 focus group

Classroom and study visit use of tablet PCs for language development Classroom and study visit use of tablet PCs for language development Mixed ICT classroom and online support

Focus group – N/A

Adult ESOL learners – 2 interviews

Tablet PC and learning materials

FE College - mixed group of full/part time learners in a variety of curriculum areas - 1 focus group (10). BTech Hospitality supervision, HNC Estate management, HND French FE College – 3 interviews (BTech Hospitality supervision, HNC Estate management, HND French)

Focus group – N/A

Mixed ICT classroom and online support

Institutional website as gateway, VLE (Blackboard) materials and discussion fora, Internet, Athens.

We identified from the focus group those whom we felt had something interesting to say and appeared to be ‘effective’. 3 out of 4 invited attended.

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HE University - First year Economics and Marketing. Full time. Mixed ages. 4 interviews.

Campus based, lecturers use rich mix of media and the VLE.

Prior to interviews students kept a blog on use of technology for two weeks. These were then used as the artefact.

HE University - PG Diploma Law students (Have already completed 4 year law degree). Full time. Mixed ages. 4 interviews.

Online, multimedia, video lectures & tutorial based.

FE college consortium, SFC BlendEd project. HNC Social Care learners were full time care workers on a day release course. 1 focus group FE college consortium - 2 interviews.

Mixed ICT classroom and online support . Uses learning objects developed as part of the transformational BlendEd project. Will inform SFC project evaluation

Bespoke ‘Virtual community’ environment in which students posted messages, used calendars and engaged in group work, plus online videos of lectures. Focus group - N/A

Class of 500. A new cohort so students new to the tutor, therefore we asked for volunteers. 8 responded, 6 attempted to keep the blog. Of those 1 dropped out and 1 didn’t turn up for interview. Interviewed remaining (4), as all from their blogs appeared to use technologies effectively. Discussed with tutor who recommended asking for volunteers through the department . Interviewees were self-selecting in this case. As the whole course makes use of technologies all students had experience in using them. Tutor chose students for focus group, though the students new in the door. For many of these learners, it is their first experience of formal education since leaving school. Interviewees chose for availability and a mix of age and experience. Tutor identified several students on the basis of their effectiveness as learners. We then contacted them directly and followed up students who agreed to take part. Focus group invitation issued to learners on these two courses following discussion with tutors on suitable learners to target.

HE University – UG Business Administration students - 3 interviews

Mixed mode programme with extensive use of eportfolios / learning logs Blended learning with integration of classroom teaching with online activities.

BlendEd learning objects, including activities and discussion fora Learning Logs

FE College students undertaking HNC courses on Customer Care and Economics. Focus group.

Focus group - N/A

1.2 Participating Institutions

North Middlesex Hospital Trust Belfast Institute Dundee College Tower Hamlets College Cardonald College Glasgow Caledonian University Lancaster University Strathclyde University TUC Education Department

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LEX Final Report, August 2006

Appendix 7 - Demographics
Gender Female Male Unstated

30 24 1

54.6 43.7 1.8

Age 16-24 25-34 35-54 55-64 65+ Unstated Language English Welsh Other* Unstated *Dutch
Polish Bengali Scottish Chichewa Unstated other

24 6 20 2 2 1

43.6 10.9 36.4 3.6 3.6 1.8

41 0 13 1
1 1 1 2 1 4

74.5 0 23.6 1.8

Left full time education =<16 17-19 20-24 25+ Still in FTE Unstated

15 15 4 2 18 1

27.3 27.3 7.3 3.6 32.7 1.8

Employment Full time Part time Not employed – seeking work Not employed – not seeking work Unstated

18 21 5 9 2

32.7 38.2 9.1 16.4 3.6

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LEX Final Report, August 2006

Education status Full time Part time Not in education Unstated

24 19 4 8

43.6 34.5 7.3 14.4

Education level School FE HE PG Unstated

12 23 7 7 6

21.8 41.8 12.7 12.7 10.9

Computer access Home Work College/centre Elsewhere* *Library
Learndirect Unstated

39 24 41 6
2 1 3

70.9 43.6 74.5 10.9

One venue Two venues Three venues Four venues Nowhere

17 18 15 3 2

Frequency of access Every day Every week Occasionally Never Unstated

42 9 2 0 2

76.4 16.4 3.6 0 3.6

Computer skills Expert Confident Partly confident Unconfident Non-user Unstated

3 25 24 1 0 2

5.4 45.5 43.6 1.8 0 3.6

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LEX Final Report, August 2006

Internet use Every day Every week Occasionally Never Unstated

36 11 4 2 2

65.5 20.0 7.3 3.6 3.6

Frequent user Mobile phone Handheld/PDA Laptop Digital camera Scanner Other*
*iPod Video games WiFi server Printer MP3 CD

47 4 21 27 15 7
2 1 1 1 1 1

85.5 7.3 38.2 49.1 27.3 12.7

Learning technology Online course Partly online course Electronic whiteboard Materials on computer Computer based assessments Online discussion board Video and audio files Videoconferencing Email Learning on mobile device First experience Other

10 8 14 26 21 12 15 4 38 4 11 0

18.2 14.5 25.5 47.3 38.2 21.8 27.3 7.3 69.1 7.3 20.0 0

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Appendix 8 - Conceptual map of influencing factors

44

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