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162 Int. J. Technology Enhanced Learning, Vol. 2, Nos.

1/2, 2010

Typology building for enhancing inclusiveness in


e-learning

Kathy Kikis-Papadakis* and Andreas Kollias


FORTH/IACM, N. Plastira 100, Vassilika Vouton,
70013 Heraklion, Crete, Greece
E-mail: katerina@iacm.forth.gr
E-mail: an_kollias@yahoo.gr
*Corresponding author

Abstract: This paper is concerned with the process of studying socio-cultural


elements/issues in e-learning from the perspective of the learner and his/her
interactions with the components of the e-learning courses under the scope of
inclusiveness. Presented are results that emerged from the implementation of an
online course designed in the frame of project Fe-ConE. Discussed are
approaches to the study of socio-cultural elements in e-learning and learners’
dispositions-in-action during their engagement in the online course. The paper
concludes with the definition of a set of four profiles of e-learners.

Keywords: adult learners; e-learning; dispositions-in-action; learning profiles;


inclusive design; inclusiveness, typology building.

Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Kikis-Papadakis, K.


and Kollias, A. (2010) ‘Typology building for enhancing inclusiveness
in e-learning’, Int. J. Technology Enhanced Learning, Vol. 2, Nos. 1/2,
pp.162–181.

Biographical notes: Kathy Kikis-Papadakis received her PhD in Educational


Planning and Evaluation. Since 1993, she is leading the Educational Research
and Evaluation Group at FORTH/IACM. Her research interests are in the study
of impact of technology enhanced learning, both from an effectiveness and
innovation introduction perspectives and socio-cultural aspects of learning and
e-learning. Other areas of interest include gender and mathematics and
curriculum development for teachers’ professional development. Most of her
research work is supported from competitive grants.

Andreas Kollias is a Researcher at IACM/FORTH since 2000. He also offers


research methodology courses at the Department of Political Science and
History, Athens, Greece.

1 Introduction

Given the growing offer of online courses to international audiences of adult learners, the
need to include a socio-cultural angle in the design and implementation of online courses
and contents has today become something of an imperative (Henderson, 1996, 2007;
Wild and Henderson, 1997). Addressing the issue of socio-cultural diversity in relation to
pedagogic inclusiveness in online adult learning poses difficult theoretical and

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Typology building for enhancing inclusiveness in e-learning 163

methodological questions. One of them is the level of analysis at which such differences
can be conceptualised, studied and addressed in design.
Regarding international e-courses, three interrelated levels are often used for analysis
and discussion. These deal with learners as members of
a regions of the world (Europeans, Asians etc.)
b nations
c ethnicities.
The assumption is that people of different nationalities, ethnicities or world regions have
appropriated distinctly different patterns of teaching and learning though their exposure
to dominant national learning traditions or wider cultural traditions, such as the ‘Western
academic culture’ or the ‘Confucian heritage culture’ (see for example, Watkins and
Biggs, 1996; 2001).
Educational research along the lines of national and/or hyper-national level cultures
has often relied on Hofstede (1991, 2001, 2005) and to a lesser degree on Hall (1976).
Hofstede’s national culture dimensions (power distance, individualism, masculinity and
uncertainty avoidance, plus the more recent short-term vs. long-term orientation) and the
calculated country scores on each dimension are often employed as a framework for
explaining observed differences in the dispositions and practices between international
and native students doing courses at universities in Western countries (see, for example,
Pritchard and Skinner, 2002), women’s participation in formal education (Cheung and
Chan, 2007) and failures in the transfer of pedagogic practices from one cultural context
to another (Phuong-Mai et al., 2005). These dimensions have also been applied to the
study of online learning. For example, Pfeil et al. (2006) explained differences between
French, German, Japanese and Dutch Wikipedia pages on the topic game, a practice that
can be paralleled to collaborative e-learning, on the basis of national-level cultural
dimensions proposed by Hofstede. Al-Harthi (2005) explained Arab e-learners’ expressed
feelings of anxiety and reluctance to participate in distant education courses on the basis
of Hofstede’s model, arguing that Arab country nationals have stronger uncertainty
avoidance than US nationals, which means that they may feel more threatened by
uncertain situations than do members of the US culture. On their part, Kim and Bonk
(2002) attempted to explain US, Finish and Korean participants’ online collaborative
behaviours on the basis of Hall’s (1976) theory of cultural differences. Morse (2003) also
turned to Hall’s low-high context cultures theory and related research to explain
differences in learning behaviours as expressed through communication on the basis of a
continuum between low and high context ethnic cultures.
Understandably enough, research on cultural differences in online learning drawing
upon models such as Hofstede’s and Hall’s are subject to the kind of criticism that has
been made to these models on both theoretical and methodological grounds (see for
example, McSweeney, 2002; Smith, 2002). Among the most common critiques is that
culture is reduced and oversimplified into a limited number of continua and that everyone
within a given ethnic/national culture fits within a simple polarity, which runs the risk of
gross stereotyping. The latter, as a consequence, can further lead online course and
e-content designers to apply stereotypically constructed pedagogic ‘recipes’ for adult
learners of different ethnicities/nationalities. Practically this is the risk that designers are
faced with when they mechanically transfer into their work assumptions on culture based
on a single group characteristic, such as nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, gender, age,
164 K. Kikis-Papadakis and A. Kollias

social position, profession etc. This risk is further heightened when failing to take into
account the actual or potential impact of wider technological, socio-economic and
cultural phenomena, such as the globalisation of economies, mass culture, travel,
immigration or online social networking, on how people ‘belonging’ to different social,
cultural or professional groups perceive, experience and respond to new realities that
demand from them to interact with ‘others’ both off and online.
However, if we de-emphasise the idea that international learners’ frames of reference
can be predominantly attributed to different but homogeneous cultures according to a
single group characteristic, we still need to identify, define and discuss what may be the
frames of reference that are of high relevance in the design of pedagogically inclusive
e-learning courses and contents.
In international e-courses, such frames of reference may be more flexibly attributed to
learning dispositions. According to Katz (1993, p.16), “a disposition is a pattern of
behaviour exhibited frequently and in the absence of coercion, and constituting a habit of
mind under some conscious and voluntary control, and that is intentional and oriented to
broad goals”. Facione et al. (2000, p.64) view dispositions as “… a person’s consistent
internal motivation to act toward, or to respond to, persons, events, or circumstances in
habitual, and yet potentially malleable, ways”. From a wider socio-cultural perspective, a
dispositional analysis of learning practice is closely related to approaches to learning such
as those that have been proposed by Vygotsky (1978, 1986) and others (Rogoff, 1990;
Wertsch, 1991; Lave and Wenger, 1991). From a sociological perspective, Bourdieu
proposed the notion of habitus, a mediating system of dispositions between a field of
human activity and actual practice. Bourdieu’s (1996, pp.178–180) notion of habitus was
anticipated to overcome structuralist conceptions of human action as a passive response
to over-determining social structures as well as ‘methodological individualism’ which
sees human action as a product of highly autonomous agents. Habitus is a structuring
structure by making possible human practice; it is also a structured structure in that it is
the product of the internalisation of social structures, as well as an open structure, “... an
open system of dispositions that is constantly subjected to experiences, and therefore
constantly affected by them in a way that either reinforces or modifies its structures”
[Bourdieu and Wacquant, (1992), p.133].
In this perspective, learners do not enact, consciously or unconsciously, a deeper
cultural trait or dispositional pattern, irrespective of what they actually experience in a
particular learning context and situation. In real-life, ongoing, learning activities, their
learning culture or dispositions do not simply affect their actual learning choices and
practices but are also affected by the latter. This explains why the same individual, from
context to context and from situation to situation, may exhibit different and sometimes
contrasting learning behaviours. As we propose, in-between
a learners’ socially and culturally established schemas (an individual’s learning
culture) which favour some alternatives over others (courses of learning action and
experience, including expectations about them)
b actual learning practice (what learners really do in a specific learning situation and
context).
There is a mediating space for negotiation and meaning making which is formed by fluid
socio-psychological processes which we call learning dispositions-in-action.
Typology building for enhancing inclusiveness in e-learning 165

Our hypothesis about learning dispositions-in-action builds upon the assumption that they
originate in purposive learning activities and are not operating below the level of
consciousness. The learners can reflect upon them and use them accordingly, in relation
a to their evaluations regarding the appropriateness of such dispositions-in-action at a
given learning situation and context
b to the feedback they get from actual learning interactions.
In other words, in the absence of coercion, the learners are consciously employing
learning dispositions-in-action to achieve their learning goals. Such dispositions-in-action
can be highly consistent, but this is not because they have been crystallised and
invariably applied in any learning situation and context. Each learner can employ
different and even contrasting learning-dispositions-in-action in different learning
situations and contexts. Dispositions-in-action form wider mediating learning action
patterns which we call learning profiles. These profiles have all the attributes of
dispositions-in-action, i.e., they are fluid, they are conscious and they are not invariably
applied in any learning situation and context. On the basis of this hypothesis, the main
research question of the present study is what may be the conceptual contents of these
mediating processes and how these may orient adult learners in their learning practices.

2 Research methodology

As it may be clear from the way we defined dispositions-in-action, such processes can be
best observed in real-life, authentic learning situations and contexts. The EC supported
Fe-ConE Project (Jan. 2006 to Dec. 2007), which was focused on the impact of
socio-cultural dimensions in e-learning under the scope of inclusiveness, provided a
research context for exploring the dispositions-in-action hypothesis. Within this context,
a six-week e-course on “e-learning fundamentals” was designed by a group of five
experienced e-course designers/tutors from three European countries so as to avoid as
possible design biases and was conducted exclusively online and in English. The
designers also acted as course tutors supported by other project members. Their role was
to facilitate the learners but not explicitly offer tutoring and also to contribute to
discussions in a way so as to carefully challenge the participants’ views in order to help
them elaborate more on their ideas. The tutors also graded the participants’ assignments.

2.1 The e-course design


The design of the e-course was based on Hofstede’s model of cultural dimensions
(Hofstede, 2001; Hofstede and Hofstede, 2005), adapted for the purposes of the project.
This choice may seem contradictory to what we have so far claimed, i.e., that prescriptive
‘national culture’ designs run the risk of gross stereotyping. This would be true if we used
Hofstede’s model and country scores to lead our design for learners of different
nationalities. Instead, what we found very interesting with Hofstede’s dimensions was
their high degree of relevancy to characteristic elements of different teaching/learning
approaches, methods and practices and their underlying pedagogic assumptions (such as
instructivism, cognitivism, constructivism or socio-cultural perspectives). These
dimensions also share great commonalities with other evaluation schemes developed
166 K. Kikis-Papadakis and A. Kollias

specifically to deal with computer-based pedagogies, such as the work of Reeves and
Reeves (1997).
The re-working of Hofstede’s dimensions led to the design of activities and content
reflecting, as closely as possible, their conceptual content. These included:
a competitive and non-competitive introductory tasks (masculinity dimension)
b pre-structured and open-ended assignments (uncertainty avoidance dimension)
c individual reflection activities and ‘whole-classroom’ forum discussions or group
work (individualism dimension).
Furthermore, the learning materials included ‘web-based-training’ (WBT) packages,
which were either ‘theoretical’ in their approach (rich background information) or
‘practical’ (tools, tips, guidelines etc.), links to external online materials on the WWW,
lists of suggested readings and short video-clips with ‘experts’ talking on relevant topics.

2.2 Research instruments and data collection


The data used to explore possible underlying dispositions-in-action employed by learners
in the context of the e-course were obtained from two broad sources. A pre-course
questionnaire (55 items) was administered to obtain data about learners’ demographic
characteristics and their learning preferences. A post-course questionnaire (41 items) was
focused mainly on learners’ evaluations of the e-course activities and content. In addition,
after each of the six weekly course modules, an equal number of questionnaires (14 items
each) were administered in order to obtain learners’ views about specific on-going
learning activities and experiences.
Another set of data was collected from learners’ activity during the course. One of
them had to do with the quantity and the quality of learners’ postings in eight task-related
forum discussions. A second set of quantitative data included the number of successful
competitive, pre-structured and open-ended assignments submitted. These data were used
to construct indicators of learners’ actual level involvement during the course.

2.3 The research participants


The learners who participated in the e-course were 118 in total. Among them 47
individuals (20 males, 42.6%) agreed to also participate in the research processes. These
individuals, all of whom successfully completed the course, were living in 15 European
countries. The largest age group was between 36 and 45 years (n = 21, 44.6%), while
those under 36 or over 45 formed two equal-size age groups (n = 13, 27.7%). Among
them, 22 (46.8%) reported that they had studied or worked in a country other than their
own for a period longer than two months. Furthermore, more than 78% (n = 37) of the
sample reported that did not face any particular problem in understanding the learning
materials or the forum discussions; 12 (25.5%) reported that they found it difficult to
communicate clearly their thoughts in English.
The sample was consisted of highly educated individuals. More than 55% (n = 26) of
the learners had obtained or was in the process of obtaining a Masters or PhD, 38% had
obtain a university degree (n = 18) and 6% (n = 3) a post-secondary vocational
qualification. The largest percentage of them had attended to teacher education studies
(n = 20, 42.6%), followed by humanities/languages (n = 7, 15%), and science/computing
Typology building for enhancing inclusiveness in e-learning 167

(n = 5, 10.5%). Among the sample, 16 where primary and secondary education teachers
(34%), nine (19%) were students, nine were university teachers and 34 were other
professionals, including e-learning and IT specialists, professional trainers and training
consultants.

3 Data analysis

The data regarding the samples’ actual involvement with the course as well as the
participants’ evaluations obtained from the post-course questionnaire are the first that are
analysed in the sub-chapter that follows. The analysis at this level is descriptive and aims
at revealing possible patterns between what the learners did during the course and how
they evaluated the course activities.
On the second sub-chapter, data obtained from the pre-course and during the course
questionnaires are first factor-analysed to reveal possible underlying dimensions that
oriented their action during the course. The categorised scores of individual learners in
each dimension are then used as input in a multiple correspondence analysis in order to
explore possible higher order learner profiles.
On the third sub-chapter, the categorised data from the participants’ level of actual
involvement with the course, their post-course evaluations and their factor scores are all
entered into a single multiple correspondence analysis in order to explore in a more
synthetic way possible ‘higher-order’ dimensions of dispositions-in-action.

3.1 Indicators of the sample’s actual involvement with the course and
post-course evaluations
On Table 1 below, data are presented regarding the sample’s level of involvement in
different types of assignments, including their ‘presence’ and posts’ quality in
task-related forum discussions.
In order to group the sample in categories of task-related forum discussions
‘presence’ (total number of posts), we calculated three cut-points of equal groups among
all the e-course students (i.e., not just those who also participated in the research). On this
basis, those with up to four posts were categorised in the ‘low presence’ category, those
with five to 12 posts in the ‘medium’ and those with >12 posts in the ‘high’.
Furthermore, in order to group students in the sample according to the quality of their
contribution in eight task-related forum discussions, a content analysis was performed on
more than 700 task-related forum posts from all 118 e-course students. The scoring
system employed was based on four evaluation categories (4 = ‘extended’, 3 = ‘good’,
2 = ‘fair’ and 1 = ‘inadequate’). The main criterion for categorising each student’s posts
to a specific forum was the task description. On this basis, a ‘quality of contributions’
total score was calculated for each student (min. = 1, max. = 32). These scores were then
used to calculate three cut-points of equal groups representing those students in the
sample with ‘low’, ‘medium’ and ‘high’ quality level of contribution to discussions.
Regarding the competitive, pre-structured and open-ended assignments, the criterion
for categorising the sample in three levels of involvement was the number of submitted
assignments. Given that the participants had very different starting points regarding their
prior subject-matter and language competencies, it was assumed that everyone who
submitted an assignment showed an actual interest in participating in the respective
168 K. Kikis-Papadakis and A. Kollias

activity. So it was decided that those who submitted all three competitive, pre-structured
or open-ended assignments to be placed, respectively, in the ‘high’ level of involvement,
those with two in the ‘medium’ and those with just one or none in the ‘low’.
Table 1 The distribution of the students in the sample in levels of involvement per indicator
(N = 47)

Levels of involvement
Actual practice indicators
Low Medium High
Forum ‘presence’ f 9 11 27
(row %) 19.1% 23.4% 57.4%
Quality of contribution to task-related discussions f 11 14 20
(row %) 23.4% 29.8% 42.6%
Open-ended assignments f 5 14 26
(row %) 11.1% 31.1% 57.8%
Pre-structured assignments f 6 13 28
(row %) 12.8% 27.7% 59.6%
Competitive assignments f 11 17 19
(row %) 23.4% 36.2% 40.4%

The overall picture presented in the above table indicates that the students who fully
participated in the research processes throughout the course were represented in all levels
of involvement per indicator. The findings show that the majority of the students in the
sample successfully submitted all of the open-ended and pre-structured assignments.
Comparatively, the competitive assignments were not that popular among the students.
Similarly, the students appeared to be somewhat less interested in the quality of their
contributions in task-related forum discussions.
In the following table, data are presented having to do with students’ post-course
evaluations about the contribution of different types of activities to their learning.
Table 2 The students’ evaluations about the contribution of types of the e-course activities to
their learning (N = 47)

Neither
negative
Very important for my learning Negative Positive
nor
positive
Studying the contents of the WBTs… f 1 6 39
(row %) 2.2% 13.0% 84.8%
Discussing with other participants in forums… f 5 14 26
(row %) 11.1% 31.1% 57.8%
Working on the pre-structured assignments… f 5 10 30
(row %) 11.1% 22.2% 66.7%
Working on the open-ended assignments… f 2 14 29
(row %) 4.4% 31.1% 64.4%
Working on the competitive assignments… f 12 9 24
(row %) 26.7% 20.0% 53.3%
Typology building for enhancing inclusiveness in e-learning 169

Table 2 The students’ evaluations about the contribution of types of the e-course activities to
their learning (N = 47) (continued)

Neither
negative
Very important for my learning Negative Positive
nor
positive
Exploring various e-learning tools and f 1 8 35
environments suggested…
(row %) 2.3% 18.2% 79.5%
Undertaking personal learning activities f 9 34
beyond the immediate demands of the
course…
(row %) 20.9% 79.1%

As shown on the table above, the study of the learning materials included in the WBT
packages appeared to be the most valued learning activity. The second most valued
appeared to be the exploration of suggested tools and personal initiatives beyond the
immediate demands of the course. The least preferred type of activity appeared to be the
competitive assignments and the second least preferred the forum discussions.
The above data can be viewed not only as students’ actual evaluations but also as
indirect indicators of what were their predominant ways of involving with different types
of learning activities. Under this perspective, studying the contents of the WBTs proved
to be the most valuable source of new learning for them not just because the WBTs were
really good but also because studying the WBTs was what they chose mostly to do during
the course. In other words, their responses may also reflect their actual practices but also
and more importantly, dispositions-in-action towards different types of learning
activities. This interpretation is, for example, quite reasonable regarding their evaluations
about the forum discussions. The findings show a lower degree of quality participation in
forum discussions (see ‘quality of forum contribution’ indicator data on Table 1) as
compared to pre-structured and open-ended tasks (which required the study of learning
materials) and it is therefore likely that this resulted in less positive evaluations about
forum discussions (dispositions orienting learning practice which in turn affects
dispositions). Under this perspective, among the students in the sample a dominant
disposition-in-action orienting their ways of approaching the course, was exemplified in
their actual practices of studying the WBT learning materials, exploring the suggested
e-learning tools and undertaking learning initiatives which perhaps were inspired by the
course but were not strictly required by the course task descriptions. Doing the
assignments, including discussion-based tasks, was maybe a necessary but not as
welcomed part of the process of ‘being member of the course’ as was the opportunity to
access the learning materials and explore all these new ideas and tools suggested in them.
All the above suit well to a rather stereotypical sketch of the Western self-directed adult
learner who prefers freedom to choose his/her own learning route and seeks for learning
experiences that are of immediate relevance to his/her professional or personal life
(a ‘higher-level’ learning disposition).
170 K. Kikis-Papadakis and A. Kollias

3.2 Exploring underlying dimensions of the participants’ involvement with the


course
In order to further explore possible underlying dispositions-in-action employed by the
learners during the course, a factor analysis was performed on 32 pre-course and during
the course questionnaire items. Through the inspection and reflection upon the statistical
results of exploratory factor analyses, a model of five main factors was adopted as the
most interpretable solution. This model explained 57% of the total variance, which is
very satisfying for the purposes of this study.
Table 3 The rotated components matrix of the five factors solution

Components
Items 1 2 3 4 5
1 I would prefer pre-structured tasks. 0.71 –0.14 0.27 –0.27 0.09
2 I don’t like it when I am asked to search for 0.71 –0.10 –0.15 0.48 0.07
some topic without any clear suggestion
from the teacher.
3 I never question why a teacher proposes a 0.68 0.01 –0.07 –0.11 –0.10
specific set of study materials. I have no
doubts that the teacher has made the right
choices.
4 I feel insecurity when a teacher asks the 0.63 0.14 0.31 0.31 0.10
students to express views on issues raised
by him/her or students.
5 I felt positively challenged when informed 0.63 0.13 –0.03 0.05 0.01
that ‘the top learners with the best answers
will be announced at the end of the week’.
6 I find it difficult to begin a new topic of 0.62 0.46 0.18 –0.11 0.00
discussion even if I feel it is reasonable to
do so.
7 I would not criticise other participant’s 0.56 –0.28 0.32 0.42 –0.19
views…
8 Strong conflicts in opinions should be 0.56 –0.29 0.38 0.33 0.05
avoided because it is important to build
consensus and harmony.
9 Usually it’s a waste of time whenever the 0.53 –0.02 0.10 –0.17 0.27
teacher leaves a lot of time to the students
for discussions and exchange of ideas.
10 I would really like to win the ‘best 0.50 0.42 –0.26 0.21 –0.10
e-learning course in the world’ contest (a
course task).
11 I would not hesitate to challenge and –0.48 –0.03 0.34 –0.09 0.32
criticise a teacher in the classroom.
12 An important task of the teacher is to offer 0.45 0.17 0.05 0.27 0.19
a clear and precise set of ordered learning
goals and structured tasks.
13 If I had the time, I would work harder for 0.04 0.85 –0.13 0.18 –0.21
this week’s assignment in order to be
among the students with the best grade.
Typology building for enhancing inclusiveness in e-learning 171

Table 3 The rotated components matrix of the five factors solution (continued)

Components
Items 1 2 3 4 5
14 I really liked that most of what I had to 0.00 0.71 0.07 0.10 –0.07
study for week 1 was included in a WBT
session.
15 The tutors should have provided us with 0.22 0.70 0.28 0.07 0.17
some clear information/criteria on the basis
of which they will assess students’
performance…
16 If my test score was low and I had the –0.21 0.67 0.12 –0.14 0.28
chance to do the test several times, I would
definitely try to improve my score.
17 I usually work much harder in learning 0.24 0.45 0.30 –0.03 –0.09
tasks that I know I will get a score from the
teacher than in tasks that will not.
18 I would be very much interested to watch 0.11 0.15 0.72 0.21 –0.20
more experts… (video clips) explaining
what the important characteristics of
e-learning are.
19 I did not like it that the long list of this –0.10 –0.21 0.69 0.11 0.13
week’s ‘collection of e-learning tools’ was
not accompanied by suggestions from the
tutors about what are the most popular or
useful ones.
20 I would be very much interested to watch –0.05 0.25 0.68 0.22 0.09
more videos from experts explaining what
are the trends relating to e-learning today.
21 During week 3 of the course, I did not 0.20 0.14 0.65 –0.09 0.28
really feel the need to turn to other students
in the course in order to ask for help or
discuss my ideas.
22 I enjoy computer games which test players’ 0.07 0.24 0.53 –0.13 –0.12
knowledge or mental skills and I usually
will try more than once to get into the list
of top scorers.
23 I usually try to find the shortest route –0.20 0.32 0.19 0.73 0.35
through this course’s assignments in terms
of time and effort requirements.
24 I would give suggestions on how to 0.17 0.13 –0.03 0.71 0.01
improve other participants’ course designs
but I would never go as far as to explicitly
criticise them.
25 In case I had a negative comment to make –0.06 –0.12 0.02 0.65 –0.08
about the tutors or the course design, I
would prefer to communicate it through a
private channel rather than by posting a
message to a public forum.
172 K. Kikis-Papadakis and A. Kollias

Table 3 The rotated components matrix of the five factors solution (continued)

Components
Items 1 2 3 4 5
26 I would prefer that the ‘game design’ –0.23 0.29 0.36 0.57 –0.30
assignment was organised as a group
activity.
27 When designing my self-study course I 0.41 0.27 –0.25 0.55 0.18
tried to implement as closely as possible
some of the ideas presented in the WBT
contents.
28 When I am certain about a solution to a 0.18 –0.12 0.33 0.48 –0.04
problem I usually say it right away to the
others. There is no point to wait until
someone else comes with a solution.
29 I liked it that the activities during this 0.11 0.15 0.22 0.19 0.73
module did not require forum discussions.
30 I usually prefer individual learning tasks 0.24 0.08 –0.18 –0.01 0.72
instead of group tasks.
31 In an e-learning group of students that I 0.26 0.16 –0.26 –0.10 –0.62
meet online for the first time I believe I
would be very active encouraging
everybody to talk.
32 I would have preferred a collaborative –0.04 0.21 0.21 0.30 –0.60
assignment...
Notes: extraction method: principal component analysis, rotation method: Varimax with
Kaiser Normalisation, rotation converged in seven iterations
As seen on the table above, 12 items correlate more strongly to the 1st factor (15% of the
variance explained, eigenvalue = 6.1, Cronbach’s alpha = 0.8). An inspection of the items
in this factor reveals a number of issues that all have to do with
a working on pre-structured tasks, the teacher being responsible for defining the
learning goals, the study materials and the activities (items 1, 2 and 12)
b never questioning the teacher choices on study materials (item 3)
c having negative feelings on whole classroom discussions (insecurity, discussions are
a waste of time) (items 4, 6, 9), maintaining consensus and harmony and avoiding
expressing criticism (items 7, 8 and 11) and ‘winning’ whole classroom individual
competitions (items 5 and 10).
This factor appears to reflect several ‘traditional classroom’ concerns and expectations
about the role, and the position of the teacher and the students.
The inspection of the five items correlating to the 2nd factor (11.3% explained
variance, eigenvalue = 3.8, Cronbach’s alpha = 0.64) indicates that this factor is rather
reflecting what we call ‘grades chasing’, the disposition of learners towards getting the
best possible grades. It is characteristic that two items correlating to this factor have to do
with learners’ willingness to work harder to get a better grade (items 13 and 16) and two
others have to do with what appears to be important parameters in this chase for higher
Typology building for enhancing inclusiveness in e-learning 173

grades (criteria of assessment and well organised body of study materials) (items 15 and
14). Finally, it should not go unnoticed that the last item correlating to this factor
(item 17) indicates a moderate positive relationship between learning effort and graded
(as opposed to non-graded) learning tasks, which is consistent with a ‘grades chancing’
approach.
The 3rd factor (11.2% explained variance, eigenvalue = 3.1, Cronbach’s alpha = 0.6)
is rather reflecting the preferred source of knowledge. One major source is the experts in
a domain (items 18 and 20). The more learners have the chance to listen to selected
experts talk about their area of expertise the better for their learning. Another source is
teacher-compiled short lists (vs. long lists) of suggested study materials (item 19), which
in their own way represent the most up-to-date knowledge sources. These items reflect a
rather ‘focused’ disposition towards the sources of knowledge and this is further
supported by another correlated item (item 21) which indicates the lack of need to turn to
other students for help or ideas, although they may also be a useful source of knowledge.
It appears that the more knowledge is sought among experts and short lists of study
materials the less other co-students are believed to be a valid alternative source of
knowledge.
The item correlating more strongly to the 4th factor (10.9% explained variance,
eigenvalue = 2.8, Cronbach’s alpha = 0.65) is ‘I usually try to find the shortest route
through this course’s assignments in terms of time and effort requirements’ (item 24).
This is a bold statement because it can clearly characterise learners’ wider approach to
the e-course. Two other items, 24 and 25, have to do with criticism. No public criticism
to the teacher and no criticism to other students are consistent with a ‘shortest route’
approach because expressing criticism and responding to other participants’
counter-arguments is usually more demanding and time-consuming than keeping your
views to yourself. Furthermore, applying as closely as possible what is described in the
suggested learning materials (item 27) and believing that there is no point waiting until
someone else comes with a solution to a problem (item 28) also seem to be consistent
with the ‘shortest route’ approach. It is usually less time consuming and demanding to
apply what has been identified by a teacher as valid knowledge, methods or skills instead
of searching for more or different ideas. This is also true in learning groups, where those
who believe they know what has to be done do not waste their time waiting for other
learners’ views. Finally, working in groups, provided that there is no criticism among
group members and the learners apply as closely as possible what is described in the
learning materials, could also be consistent with a ‘shortest route’ approach, because the
learners can split the workload between them.
Finally, the 5th factor (8.3% variance explained, eigenvalue = 2.4, Cronbach’s
alpha = 0.62) represents a social-communicative dimension of teaching and learning, in
the form of preference to work individually as contrasted to working, even developing
communication, with other co-learners. Preference to no forum discussions (item 29) and
individual learning tasks (item 30) are strongly and positively correlated to this factor,
while willingness to encourage others (item 31) and preference to collaborative
assignments (item 32) are negatively correlated.
In order to explore the participants’ relationship with each of the five factors, the
mean score of their responses to the items correlating most strongly to each factor was
calculated. The participants’ scores on each factor were recoded in three categories of
acceptance (mean score between 0–3 was categorised ‘low’ acceptance, 4–6 as
174 K. Kikis-Papadakis and A. Kollias

‘neither/nor’ and >6 as ‘high’). The categorised results are summarised on the Figure 1
below:

Figure 1 Distribution of learners per dimension and degree of acceptance to its conceptual
content (see online version for colours)

37,5%
Working alone 37,5%
25,0%

“Shortest route” 58,1%


34,9%
approach 7,0%
High acceptance
Experts as source 51,1%
37,8% Neither low nor high
of know ledge 11,1%

Low acceptance
"Grades chasing" 54,3%
30,4%
approach 15,2%

Traditional 15,6%
48,9%
teaching/learning 35,6%

0,0% 10,0% 20,0% 30,0% 40,0% 50,0% 60,0% 70,0%

The data presented above show that the dominant learning dispositions-in-action
orienting most learners’ involvement with the course was the ‘shortest-route’ approach
(58.1%), followed by the ‘grades-chasing’ approach (54.3%).

Figure 2 Profiles of learners’ dispositional orientations towards the five dimensions of learners’
approaches to the e-course (see online version for colours)
Typology building for enhancing inclusiveness in e-learning 175

In order to explore possible homogeneous groups of learners’ dispositional orientations


towards all five dimensions, a multiple correspondence analysis (MCA) was performed
(see Benzécri, 1992; Greenacre, 1993). This statistical method supports an inductive
approach to data analysis to explore the empirical relations between categorical or
nominal variables within a low dimensional space. The factorial model that was adopted
as more interpretable had two main axes which explained almost 34% of the total inertia
(the first axis explains 17.9% of the inertia, λ1 = 0.36; the 2nd 16%, λ2 = 0.32).
On Figure 2, four learners’ profiles based on their dispositional orientations are
presented.
On the first axis (x) one profile of learners’ dispositional orientation groups learners
who are clearly negative towards traditional teaching/learning methods and practices and
emphasise on knowledge originating from interactions with co-learners (shared
construction of knowledge as opposed to knowledge coming from experts). This group is
opposed dispositionally to learners who are going for the ‘shortest route’, independently
of whether they prefer to work alone or with others. On the second axis (y) we have a
learners’ profile which is oriented towards traditional methods and practices,
grade-chasing and knowledge originating from experts. The fourth learners’ profile
included those who are determined not to follow the shortest route to learning (ready to
devote as much time and effort as possible) and also do not care about extrinsic rewards
(grades).

3.3 Higher-order dimensions of dispositions-in-action


In a more synthetic level of statistical analysis, an attempt was made to explore possible
‘higher-order’ dimensions of dispositions-in-action. At this level, an MCA analysis was
applied which included
a the data regarding the participants’ level of acceptance to the conceptual content of
each factor (‘low’, ‘neither/nor’ and ‘high’)
b the categorised data from the actual level of involvement indicators
c the post-course evaluations (see Tables 1 and 2).
Background data (namely gender, age group, job category, English language skills, prior
subject-matter competencies and experience of working/studying in another country) as
‘illustrative’ (in other words they did not actively participate in the construction of the
factorial axes).
Overall, 53 different categories were included as ‘active’ in a contingency table. The
factorial model that was adopted as more interpretable had three main axes which
explained 31.76% of the total inertia. The first axis explained 14.28% of the inertia
(λ1 = 0.28), the 2nd 9.71% (λ2 = 0.19) and the 3rd 7.78% (λ3 = 0.15).
On the first axis, the students in the sample are opposed between its positive and
negative side on the basis of their actual level of involvement and of some of their
evaluations about the impact of these practices on their learning. On the positive side of
the axis are mapped together those with ‘high’ level of forum ‘presence’, ‘high’ quality
of forum contributions and ‘high’ level of involvement in all assignments. On the
negative side of the axis are all those who scored ‘low’ on all the aforementioned actual
involvement indicators! On this side of the axis there are also those who evaluated
negatively both the WBT learning materials and the competitive tasks. Overall, the first
176 K. Kikis-Papadakis and A. Kollias

axis discriminates between ‘high’ and ‘low’ involvement and hence it points to an
underlying structuring higher order disposition-in-action which possibly has to do with
students’ degree of determination and commitment to be ‘deeply involved’ in the course
(do all that it takes to be part of it) or simply be there without trying at all, something
which is practically irrespective of the type of activities one was asked to engage in.
On the second axis, the students are opposed between those who developed a clear
dispositional stance towards their learning during the course against those who did not.
On one side, there are those who did want to learn from experts, who decided to follow
the shortest route and they were definitively positive to develop communication with co-
learners (it is the teachers in the sample who are mapped on this profile and those with
‘medium’ level of prior competencies). On the other side, there are those who remained
in-between, indecisive in a way about what approach to adopt (they remained indecisive
about following or not the shortest route and about developing communication with
others), which is also reflected in their practices (they did not post often but they did not
fail to post at all, they delivered some of their assignments but not all of them) and finally
they felt that they learned something from every type of activity but for none they felt
either negatively or positively enough.
On the third axis, the students are opposed between those who felt comfortable with
traditional approaches to teaching/learning and those who disliked traditional approaches.
Those on the traditional side valued highly their practice of studying of the WBT
materials, preferred to work alone but not on open-ended tasks and had a low opinion on
the utility of forum discussions for learning. It was females, university teachers and
individuals with no prior experience in the topics of the course that were mapped on this
profile. Those who disliked traditional approaches also disliked the idea of learning from
experts instead of learning from co-learners and had a low opinion on pre-structured
assignments. The learners who were mapped on this profile were males, they had a high
level of prior experiences/competencies on the field and they were also working as
professionals in related fields.

4 Overview and discussion of the findings and implications

Overall, the hypothesis that directed this study was that observed differences and
regularities in actual e-learning practices among adult learners in online courses cannot
be directly linked to deeper cultural/dispositional patterns at social group or category
levels (national, professional or other). They can however be empirically linked to their
learning dispositions-in-action, which we defined as fluid mediating socio-psychological
processes between
a learners’ socially and culturally established schemas that favour some alternatives
over others
b actual learning practices.
The analysis of data regarding the students’ actual level of involvement in different types
of learning activities and their post-course evaluations on them showed that they were
engaged more in doing the pre-structured and open-ended assignments and appreciated
highly the WBT learning materials and the opportunities they were offered during the
course to explore various tools and e-learning environments. On the other side, they
Typology building for enhancing inclusiveness in e-learning 177

appeared somewhat less interested in the quality of their forum contributions and in
competitive assignments. These findings indicated a pattern reflecting a learning
disposition-in-action which suits well to a rather stereotypical sketch of the Western
self-directed adult learner who prefers freedom to choose his/her own learning route and
seeks for learning experiences that are of immediate relevance to his/her professional or
personal life.
In order to further explore possible underlying dispositions-in-action employed by the
learners during the course, a factor analysis was performed on pre-course and during the
course questionnaire items. The data analysis and discussion of the findings directed us to
the conclusion that the adult learners who participated in the e-course oriented their
approach to it on the basis of five fundamental questions:
• Where do I stand between traditional vs. non-traditional teaching and learning?
(pedagogy)
• Am I going after grades or not? (extrinsic rewards)
• Who I trust to learn from, experts and teacher-suggested texts or my peers? (source
of knowledge)
• How much effort and time am I prepared to devote? (investment of resources)
• Am I going to mix with others or not? (others).
At a second data analysis level, we explored possible homogeneous groups of learners’
dispositional orientations towards all five dimensions presented above through a multiple
correspondence analysis. The adopted model identified four main learning profiles:
• Profile A: learners who tend to be negative towards traditional teaching/learning
methods and emphasise on knowledge construction/sharing with co-learners.
• Profile B: learners who tend to prefer the ‘shortest route’ to learning.
• Profile C: learners who tend to prefer traditional methods, are after grades and trust
experts more than peers as sources of knowledge.
• Profile D: learners who are willing to devote as much time and effort as possible and
also do not care about extrinsic rewards (grades).
These profiles do not mean that an individual learner ‘belongs’ to just one of them, i.e.,
that this is a consistent characteristic of his/her approach to learning in general. At least
our data do not allow us to make such generalisations. We assume that someone may be
pre-dominantly hard-work-no-extrinsic-rewards learner in one learning situation and
context and grade-chaser in another. This is also why we defined the learning
dispositions-in-action as fluid, because we believe they are not fixed over time or
situation and context.
However, the adoption of one or another profile as a guiding disposition-in-action is
not an entirely a ‘personal’ choice of individual learners as it may seem. Wider
socio-cultural factors well beyond the level of individual learners may essentially guide
them in their dispositional orientations to learning. For example, the shortest routers or
the grade-chasers are not unrelated as learning profiles from wider social, economic and
cultural discourses and realities having to do with the utility of learning in general and
high grades in particular as a medium for employability or academic success and career
178 K. Kikis-Papadakis and A. Kollias

prospects. In a way grade-chasers are the product of long-established education and


training systems which exercise an enormous pressure on individuals to prove their worth
in the grades they get and de-emphasise other more holistic approaches to assessment and
evaluation. Similarly, people may become short-routers not because they recognise some
deeper value in it but because they practically do not have much time to devote to
learning new things the way they would like to.
In a final, even more synthetic level of statistical analysis, we attempted to explore
possible “higher-order” dimensions in learners’ dispositions-in-action. At this higher
order level, two profiles identified already by our prior analysis are also identified here,
one profile of those who prefer traditional methods of teaching and learning and another
profile of those who prefer non-traditional methods. What is extremely interesting to note
is that it was the university teachers in the sample and those with no prior experience in
the topics of the course that were mapped on the ‘traditional’ profile. Perhaps the
academics oriented themselves to this kind of higher-order learning disposition because
‘by profession’ they are dispositionally much more positive to academic expert
knowledge than to knowledge that may result from forum discussions among learners.
For those with no prior experience in a learning field, a traditional teaching/learning
approach may seem to offer a more predictable, validated and ‘natural’ context, as
compared to the uncertainty that is inherent in open-ended, highly interactive
teaching/learning approaches. On the other side, the non-traditional profile was related to
those who had a high level of prior experiences/competencies in the field and they were
also already working as professionals in related fields. This finding indicates that
learners’ pedagogic dispositions-in-action are not highly pre-fixed into one of the two
pedagogic ‘extremes’, traditional vs. non-traditional teaching/learning; they may change
sides depending on their prior experience in a field. As they become more experienced in
a field, they may also become more inclined to ask for challenging, open-ended learning
opportunities and be less reliant on expert knowledge; but in topics they have little prior
experience, they may go for more traditional teaching/learning methods.
We end our discussion with one finding that appears to be the most intriguing. The
exploration of possible ‘higher-order’ dimensions in learners’ dispositions-in-action
showed a higher-order set of profiles which discriminated between those who were rated
in the ‘high’ level of involvement in the course in all types of involvement indicators, as
opposed to those who were rated in the ‘low’ level of involvement in all indicators. The
two profiles were not related to any particular dispositional orientation to the five
dimensions discussed earlier! To put it simply, this finding suggests that at the end of the
day some learners do whatever it takes to deliver while some others choose to do close to
nothing. This is irrespective of the type of learning activities one is asked to engage in
and is not related to what answer a learner gives to the five fundamental questions we
identified earlier, namely traditional or non traditional (?), grades or non-grades
chasing (?), experts or peers (?), how much time/effort (?) and socialisation or not (?).
This finding suggests an underlying structuring higher order disposition-in-action which
is strongly related to each learners’ determination and commitment to be ‘deeply
involved’ (do all that it takes to be part of a learning activity/course) or simply be there
without trying at all.
What the ‘learning profiles’ findings indicate, is that the adult learners who
participated in the course dealt with their learning from very different and sometimes
contrasting perspectives, which are likely to reflect wider dispositions-in-action that have
to be taken into account in the design of inclusive e-learning courses and e-content.
Typology building for enhancing inclusiveness in e-learning 179

The e-course and e-content designers have their own preferences about pedagogic
approaches and therefore they have to strive for balance between designs that facilitate
learning processes which support their preferred pedagogic approach and the learners’
dispositional orientations related to this approach. Clearly this is a very delicate
endeavour because it is quite understandable that some design choices may favour groups
of adult learners who better fit in one of the learning profiles we discussed earlier and
alienate others.
For example, in terms of knowledge sources an over-emphasis on learning
interactions with peers as a means of shared knowledge and skills development may
alienate those who, in the context of the specific course, will tend to prefer learning from
the experts in the field and vice versa. Similarly, learning activities that require from
learners to work on open-ended, real world problems may alienate novice learners who
are more oriented to highly structured tasks and problems. This has also implications
related to the content of the learning materials. In the case of open-ended approaches, no
single piece of learning content (a book or a database etc.) is really expected to offer all
the answers. The learners have to do a lot of searching and reading before choosing the
content that really helps them to tackle the issues at hand. On the other side,
pre-structured tasks have to come with learning content that fits into this approach,
offering for example step-to-step guidance, tools and tips.
There are also learners who feel really motivated and enthusiastic about participating
in a particular course and don’t really care about grades and antagonism. These learners
have different needs in terms of methods and contents as compared to those who are
looking after the shortest route to learn what they want. The latter may find it alienating
to have to choose among a long list of suggested learning content and more attracted to
learning content that a teacher suggests that it is absolutely necessary to study within the
limits set by the course syllabus and timetable. From another perspective, too much
emphasis on pre-developed learning content unavoidably creates the ground for
de-emphasising the role of peer discussions in learning.

4.1 Limitations of the study


The research findings and their analysis are based on a small sample of highly educated
European adults and therefore further research is needed to widen and deepen our
theoretical construct on learning dispositions-in-action and their implications regarding
the design of socio-culturally inclusive e-learning courses and e-contents for adult
learners in Europe and beyond.

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