The Impact on Learners’ Identities of Aligning Pedagogy, Design and Technologies With Theory in Online Courses
Keywords:higher education, instructional design, distance learning, contemporary learning theories and goals, learner identity
In the past two decades, much of e-learning scholarship has reflected the tensions between what we as educators aspire to do, the theory we have to support what we do, and what we actually accomplish when it comes to technology supported learning. Some scholars are recognizing that inroads to resolving these tensions can be gained through a deeper understanding of the kinds of identities we promote in learners through our pedagogies, course designs and technologies. If our goals are to promote empowered, self-directed and life-long learners in our programs, then the practices, designs and technologies we employ must all be framed by theories that support such goals. Too often this is not the case. This study forms part of a larger longitudinal inquiry aimed at aligning these three components with 21st century goals and contemporary e-learning theory at a fully online higher education (HE) technical institution in Chile. An earlier pilot focussed on the reaction to this new alignment from the institution’s broad student body of working adults (n=2,300), the majority from socially and academically disadvantaged backgrounds. Narrowing the lens on a small cohort of students (n=14) entering the institution into a cross section of career disciplines, we adopted a qualitative case study approach to uncover a deeper understanding of the identities of these students on first arrival. Our objective was to determine how highly interactive group work-based teaching practices, learner-centred instructionally designed programs and social media-based technologies such as forums and live videoconferencing sessions, impacted their identities over the course of the first 5-month period. Data collection involved in-depth individual and focus group bi-weekly interviews, reflective feedback from routine student questionnaires, field notes, instructor observations and digital activity online. Findings indicated the crucial nature of this initial period for influencing student’s learning trajectories in terms of retention and for promoting the kinds of 21st century learner identities to which the institutional programs aspired. As a surge of institutions worldwide are more motivated than ever to finding effective e-learning solutions after experiencing challenges in their online programs during the pandemic, these results could provide empirical evidence of a viable pathway forward.