#ocTEL Week 2: Understanding Learners and Learning

A few thoughts about #ocTEL Week 2: Understanding Learners and Learning 


Defining features of approaches to learning

Source: Marton, F., Hounsell, D. and Entwistle, N., (eds.) The Experience of Learning: Implications for teaching and studying in higher education. 3rd (Internet) edition. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh.


This week’s task is to think about the general idea of ‘approaches to learning’ in relation to online learning. Questions for consideration are:

  • Have you seen any evidence of these different approaches in online contexts, e.g. in technology-enhanced courses you teach? How did these differences manifest themselves in terms of online learning behaviour?
  • Are you leaning towards one approach in particular on ocTEL, and if so why might that be? Perhaps you are employing strategies from more than one approach?
  • Are learners who tend to take a ‘surface’ approach likely to learn more or less effectively online versus face-to-face?
  • How might we encourage ‘deep learning’ in online contexts?


This is quite difficult to answer as I mainly introduce staff who wish to engage with TEL via standalone workshops – I think you really need to be teaching students for a period of time before you can try to define approaches to learning. However, we’ve just run an online TEL course which ran for 9 weeks which staff chose to do. I would say that they adopt a deep approach as they are looking to further develop presentation skills.

Again, I would say that I’m leaning towards a deep approach as I progress through ocTEL. I was going to claim being a bit strategic too but I’ve blown that being late in posting this response! ;o)

I think learners taking a ‘surface approach’ would struggle more online than in a face-to-face context. In my experience most online courses expect students to build on prior knowledge and encourage reflection and understanding – this is considered in the design. Having said this, personally I can’t understand why you wouldn’t want to learn something ‘properly’. Perhaps this is looking at it through the eyes of being an adult – I know I took a ‘surface approach’ to subjects I was studying at school!


Activity 2.1: Learner Experiences

I’m cheating with this a bit as the reason I’m late posting is that I’ve been writing up the evaluation of the online course that we’ve just run.

How did students generally try to organise their studies?

The course introduced students to a new presentation tool each week. They were encouraged to try the tool, think about how it might be used in their own practice, write a reflective post and discuss their experiences with others. In retrospect, this was far too demanding on their time as they struggled to fit it around other academic demands.

What were their motivations for undertaking the course they were on?

Participants wanted to gain awareness of a range of presentation tools and raise their confidence in using social media. Presentations were identified as an area for improvement through student feedback – there have been some interesting discussions around this in the news this week:


What did they like and dislike about their online learning experience, and what were the key contributing factors (e.g. course design, tutor role, type of activities)?

Learners liked the content and the format. They also liked the sense of community the course generated.

They didn’t like the time-scales as a week didn’t give them enough time to engage properly, particularly as most of the tools were completely new to them. Most were also new to blogging, so found writing reflective posts challenging too. Many suggested complementing the online provision with some face-to-face workshops, particularly at the start of the course.


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