Networked Learning Conference 2008
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Patterns of students’ use of networked learning technologies

Maarten de Laat 1 and Gráinne Conole2
The University of Exeter1, The Open University 2 ,,


The paper describes the findings from a study of students’ use and experience of technologies undertaken as part of the JISC learner experience programme ( A series of in-depth case studies were carried out across four subject disciplines, with data collected via survey, audio logs and interviews. The paper will concentrate on the survey data, which consisted of a mixture of qualitative and quantitative results. It will compare these findings with related international surveys on students' use of technologies and argue that taken together this wider body of evidence indicates that students are immersed in a rich, technology-enhanced learning environment and that they select and appropriate technologies to their own personal learning needs.
The study focused on two main questions: How do learners engage with and experience e-learning (perceptions, use and strategies) and how does e-learning relate to and contribute to the whole learning experience? We delibarately used a broad definition of e-learning ‘the use of any kind of internet or communication service or electronic device that supports … a learning activity’, to cover a wide range of technologies. To ensure a wide range of student experiences data was collected with the support of four HE Academy subject centres: Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Medicine, Economics, Information and Computer Sciences, and Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies. The participating institutions provided a range of contexts across the UK – old and new institutions, city and regionally based. The selection of students was done in close collaboration with the participating subject centres. Learners who have been effective in their participation with e-learning were approached to capture their experience with e-learning. The methodological approach consisted of two phases – a wider contextual review of the use of technologies across a broad spectrum of students using an online survey and a more in-depth series of individual case studies of technology use gathered through student audio log diaries and interviews.
The presented findings of the survey show that higher education students in the UK from various subject centres are well equipped when it comes to using a wide range of technologies to support their learning activities (computers, laptops, mobile phones, mp3 players, etc.). Besides using the more traditional (dedicated) tools they also seem to find their way to emerging web-based technologies (such as Web 2.0 tools) for communicating, gathering and processing course related information with their teachers as well as fellow students. Students are not only using a wide range of tools they also vary (or seem to be flexible) in where they use them. When asked about their places of study, students indicate studying at home, university campus (including halls of residence) as well as their workplace. This means that students are in general fairly flexible in their use of different technologies as well as mobile in terms of where they are able to use them. Our findings map to an international trend toward higher levels of PC-ownership, coupled with increased ICT usage and skills. Many are now arguing that these students fundamentally differ from previous generations in the way they process information and communicate (and hence learn). Terms such as: ‘digital natives’, ‘the net generation’, ‘the Nintendo generation’, ‘the neomillenial generation’ have been used to try and encapsulate this shift. The characteristics of this new generation include the fact that they are comfortable with technologies and adept at working in multiple/multi-modal environments.

Full Paper - .pdf



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