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Student perceptions on skills and learning challenges in the use of educational technology in a low-contact, blended and professional learning context: a grounded theory of ‘improvised learning’

Catherall, Paul (2017) Student perceptions on skills and learning challenges in the use of educational technology in a low-contact, blended and professional learning context: a grounded theory of ‘improvised learning’. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This research project provides an original contribution to knowledge, comprising a grounded and unified theory of improvisational behaviours via Blended Learning and suggests a new paradigm of self-regulated, improvisational learning for potential application beyond the field of study. The study comprises an original Grounded Theory of ‘Improvised Learning’ demonstrating the most prevalent challenges, strategies and behaviours of students undertaking Higher Education programmes in a campus-based, low-contact teaching environment. The participant group were typically undertaking accredited professional programmes (usually related to a profession such as nursing or accounting). The students engaged in ‘Blended Learning’ i.e. study on-campus alongside use of learning technologies such as a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). The research project used Grounded Theory as an holistic methodology to investigate the experience of students in this study context. The main data collection phase consisted of informal individual or group discussions held in classes, open plan Library areas or IT Labs. Grounded Theory is a sociological methodology designed to formulate a new (Grounded) theory from a ‘substantive area’, i.e. a participant group typically comprising a shared vocational role or activity. Key elements of Grounded Theory include an emphasis on induction-based conceptualisation of theory from descriptive participant indicators and the continuous comparison of data for the emergence of ‘theoretical categories’ or codes. The ultimate aim of Grounded Theory is to demonstrate how conceptual categories inter-relate within a common theoretical explanation for the behaviour of participants (the ‘core category’). This grounded study of professional learners identified a number of theoretical models of behaviour for engaging with Blended Learning, including innovative self-led use of Information Technology and collaborative learning. The emergent ‘core category’ - reflecting all dependant codes or variables was defined as ‘Improvised Learning’, explaining conceptually how students employ self-led strategies and skills to engage with disparate systems, environments and resources.

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