|Home > Alexander|
Methodologies for researching the learning in Networked Learning
Symposium Organisers: Shirley Alexander, University of Technology,
Understanding the educational power of Networked Learning presents a significant challenge. Intensive scrutiny of teaching approaches has been given far more attention in educational research than careful consideration of learning gains. Now, in Networked Learning, we are refining and deploying newly available technologies in large part on the basis of what we are technically able to do and not necessarily because of the worth of such opportunities for learning. A core reason for this neglect is the lack of strongly theorised positions on learning and therefore on networked learning research.
This symposium presents three approaches by which this lack of a learning research basis for Networked Learning might be redressed. Each paper presents a particular theoretical view of learning. Then, by case study, methodological implications of that theory for researching the educational significance of Networked Learning are described and demonstrated.
Schaverien and Alexander assert that the late C20th and C21st has brought advances in the natural sciences and in ways of thinking about complex dynamic self-organising systems, yielding a powerful, state-of-the-art (generative) learning theory, which they then describe. They focus on how a research methodology for investigating learning (including Networked Learning) emerges from this generative learning theory, illustrating it with a recent Australian Research Council (ARC) funded project (in which both authors were Chief Investigators). They report on the power of this methodology to elicit important insights into the learning that occurred in that project and speculate on its broader research potential.
Booth perceives her paper as a complement to what she sees as the individual orientation of the first paper and the social orientation of the third paper in this symposium. She presents phenomenography and variation theory as empirical and theoretical approaches to research on learning, in particular as applicable to networked learning, describing their epistemological, ontological and methodological underpinnings. She uses three studies as examples for a discussion of the research questions that can be asked in empirical studies, the approaches to data collection and/or data generation, and analysis, and the presentation of results in wider frameworks that expand research possibilities. Here, individual learners contribute only fragments of the data that is to be analysed as a whole pool, and results are presented at the collective level of the pool.
Fox draws attention to the recent resurgence of interest in ethnomethodology from management and organization theorists, at least. He argues that within the ‘practice turn’ there is now a strong thread of ethnomethodologically informed ethnographic studies. He argues that rather than being aggregated to formulate an overarching theory of workplace practices or learning (as ethnographic studies have been), each ethnomethodological study produces a unique insight into the specifics of situated practice. He illustrates his argument by discussing a case study of audio-visual learning resources provided for science educators via a national programme of teleconferences.
These three papers provoke consideration of commonalities and differences in their approaches to researching networked learning, and of whether it is possible or fruitful to work towards a shared theoretical position.
Researching networked learning generatively
A/Prof. Lynette Schaverien
The late C20th and C21st brought advances in the natural sciences and in ways of thinking about complex dynamic self-organising systems, yielding a powerful, state-of-the-art learning theory. According to this biologically based generative theory, learning (or knowledge-gaining) can be viewed as an adaptation, hedging our species’ chances of survival. Hence, we can recognise learning (as it is conventionally understood, for individuals and cultures) as being at one with what we might call the “genetic knowledge” passed on by way of our genes in natural selection. This selectionist view of learning leads us to think about learning as generating ideas, testing them on their value and keeping those that survive these tests.
The emergent field of networked learning depends for its survival, at least at two levels, on the development of robust learning theory. First, if networked environments are to succeed in supporting learning, there is a need for principled learning design. Second and much less widely recognised, research itself is a paradigm case of learning. So, it stands to reason that approaches to researching networked learning must also be theoretically defensible.
We begin this paper by describing this biologically-based generative theory of learning, identifying its three central characteristics and showing how these are aligned with six acts of learning: exploring, designing, making, operating, explaining and understanding. We justify the worth of this theory, first by brief reference to key educational thinkers whose work might now be considered presciently generative, and then by illustrating the power of this theory in explaining learning, from our research group’s sustained empirical testing of this theory in a variety of face to face and networked learning contexts. We also note the success of this theory in distilling design parameters for learning opportunities, including in networked learning.
Our principal focus in this paper is on how a research methodology for
investigating learning (including networked learning) emerges from this
generative learning theory. We illustrate this methodology by way of a
recent Australian Research Council supported, industry-linked project
in which both authors were Chief Investigators: the GENESIS project (Generating
e-Learning Systems in Schools). That project explored the worth of casting
young learners as designers of a networked learning environment, as a
novel way of helping their schools to understand and embed some educationally
fruitful networked learning approaches. Not only did these young students
assume control over generating the curriculum content, but also the conception
and, as far as possible, the testing of their ideas through prototyping
and evaluation of the resulting networked learning environment.
In conclusion, we assert that generative learning theory is still controversial in Education. However, it enables a focus on what learners (rather than teachers) do and it can account for creativity. In a political climate that increasingly values innovation, we speculate that generative methodologies may well constitute a crucial step towards principled research into networked learning.
Researching Learning in Networked Learning – Phenomenography and Variation theory as empirical and theoretical approaches.
Phenomenography and variation theory are presented as empirical and theoretical approaches to research on learning, in particular as applicable to networked learning. Their epistemological, ontological and methodological underpinnings are described. Three studies of relevance are described briefly, and used as examples for a discussion of the research questions that can be asked in empirical studies, the approaches to data collection and/or data generation, and analysis, and the presentation of results in wider frameworks that widen research possibilities. The questions are variants of “What is the qualitative variation of ways in which people experience some phenomenon they meet in their everyday lives?”, in higher education, generally applied to students and their experience of aspects of their study and learning. Learning is seen at an individual level, but empirical results are at a collective level; individuals contribute only fragments of the data that is to be analysed as a whole pool, and results are presented at the collective level of the pool. This paper can be seen as a comparison, a contrast and, possibly, a complement to the other two papers in the symposium which present approaches which are related directly to learning at the individual level and the social level, respectively.
Ethnomethodology as an Approach to Researching Networked Learning
It is forty years since the publication of Studies in Ethnomethodology
(Garfinkel, 1967), and recent years have seen something of a resurgence
of interest in ethnomethodology from management and organization theorists,
at least. Within the ‘practice turn’, there is a strong thread
of ethnomethodologically informed ethnographic studies. In contrast to
the ethnographic studies, marshalled in the formulation of situated learning
theory (Lave and Wenger, 1991), these ethnomethodologically-informed ethnographic
studies have not been aggregated to formulate an overarching theory of
workplace practices, or learning. Rather, each produces a unique insight
into the specifics of situated practices studied through this approach.