Seminar: A critical review of online learning theories and research methods

UOC organised a research seminar on Theories for learning with emerging technologies on 15 September 2016, presented by Dr Terry Anderson. These are my notes from the seminar:

Part A: Theories to Guide Online Research

Need for theories: necessary for scholarship, extend past learning, project to future research and practice

Traditional theories of educational technology

  • Presentational view – present content using quality presentation – xMOOCs, YouTube, Khan Academy
  • Performance-tutoring – present contest but also test and reinforce – cognitive behavioural theories, instructional systems design
  • Epistemic-Engagement view – social learning – social constructivism, peer learning
    • Online Social Constructivism – active engagement, net presence (building trust), multiple perspectives and sustained dialogue, scaffolding, authentic tasks (relevance), problems are ill-structured and open-ended.
    • Challenges of social constructivism: group-based, pace and time limited, teacher-controlled?, little room for introverted, individual learners.

Distance Education Theories

  • Transactional Distance Theory (Moore) – structure and dialogue and learner autonomy
  • Theory of Instructional Dialogue (Caspi & Gorski)
  • Community of Inquiry (Garrison et al) – Social presence, teaching presence, cognititve presence

Business and Organisational Theories

  • Systems theory – components of distance education, beyond teaching and learning
  • Complexity theory – parts of systems affect each other, emergence and unanticipated events, importance of context

Newer Theories

  • Heutagogy (Hase & Kenyon)– self determined learning
  • Connectivism (Downes & Siemens) – knowledge distributed across a network of connections.
    • Connectivist learning requires network effects, persistence and accessibility (extends beyond the course)
    • Challenges – requires net literacy, openness can be scary, new roles for students and teachers, can be manic.
    • Social aggregation makes a difference – individuals  (behaviourism, cognitivism) > groups  (social constructivism) > networks/sets (share an interest, but not necessarily a social connection) (connectivism)

Part B: Paradigms & Online Learning Research

Research Paradigm

  • Philosophical/theoretical framework of a discipline or common set of beliefs about how problems can be understood and addressed, a worldview
  • Informs questions, literature and methodology
  • Paradigm: Ontology + Epistemology + Methodology
    • Ontology: view of reality and what exists e.g. realist, critical realist, relativist
    • Epistemology: our relationship with the knowledge we are discovering/uncovering – knowledge governed by laws of nature (objective) or interpreted by individuals (subjective)
    • Methodology: how you go about finding knowledge (quantitative, qualitative)
  • Types: Positivism, Constructivist, Critical, Pragmatist

Research Paradigms – Positivist

  • Ontogoloy: There is an objective reality, we can understand it through the laws by which it is governed
  • Epistemology: Scientific discourse derived from positivism and realism
  • Method: Experimental, deduction, randomised control trials, only measures what you can with scientific accuracy, based on hypotheses
  • Research questions: what? How much? Relationship between? Causes?
  • Evaluation: validity and reliability
  • Examples: Community of Inquiry content analysis, Meta-analysis


Research Paradigms – Constructivist / Interpretivist

  • Ontogoloy: World and knowledge created by social and contextual understanding
  • Epistemology: Understand a unique person’s view
  • Method: Qualitative (narratives, interviews, observations, ethnography, case study)
  • Research questions: why? Lived experience? Meaning have?
  • Most common type of DE research but more difficult with distance between researchers and participipants
  • Evaluation: Credibility, transferability, dependability, engagement
  • Example: participants views of delivering online courses

Research Paradigms – Critical / Postmodern

  • Ontogoloy:  Society rife with inadequacies and injustice
  • Epistemology:  Uncover injustice and empower citizens
  • Method:  Ideological review, civil actions
  • Research questions:  who has power? Vested interest? Who is excluded? How can I change this?

Research Paradigms – Pragmatism

  • Ontogoloy:  Truth is what is useful
  • Epistemology:  Best method is one that solves problems
  • Method:  Design-based research, mixed methods
  • Research questions: will this intervention improve learning?
  • Features: intervention, natural context, iterative, development of theory

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