DEHub/Research Themes/Learner characteristics

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Research themes
1. Theories and models
2. Globalisation of education and cross-cultural aspects
3. Access, equity, social inclusion and ethics
4. Professional Development & Faculty Support
5. Learner support and development approaches
6. Curriculum design
7. Interaction and communication in learning communities
8. Distance teaching systems and institutions)
9. Research methods in distance education and knowledge transfer
10. Quality assurance
11. Innovation and change
12. Costs and benefits
13. Management and organization
14. Educational technology
15. Learner characteristics
16. Open Education Resources (OERs)

Learner characteristics

This research will delve into the aims and goals of adult learners, the socio-economic background of distance learners and their different learning styles, critical thinking dispositions and special needs. Investigations will explore learner behaviour patterns and what competencies are needed for effective distance learning, including both personal traits and digital literacy and learning strategies.

Guiding question

What learner/teacher factors can optimise distance teaching and learning?

Research questions

  • What are the characteristics of effective distant students and teachers?
  • What are the effects of multi-tasking and the use of multiple technologies of various demographic groups in distance learning?

Highly Recommended Priority Links

Use of an Aptitude Test in University Entrance: A Validity Study

Kirkup, C. and Wheater, R. and Morrison, J. and Durbin, B. and Pomati, M. (2010) Use of an aptitude test in university entrance: a validity study. BIS research paper 26. London: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. AWP376. [Report available as pdf] In 2005, the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) was commissioned to evaluate the potential value of using an aptitude test (the SAT Reasoning TestTM) as an additional tool in the selection of candidates for admission to higher education (HE). This five-year study was co-funded by the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills (BIS), the NFER, the Sutton Trust and the College Board. This report presents findings from the final phase of the project, relating the prior attainment and SAT® scores of participating students who graduated in 2006 to their degree outcomes. It also summarises findings from the study as a whole, and cross references where appropriate to the various interim reports.

The College of 2020: Students

[Executive summary] The full report is available to subscribers for US$75 and for non subscribers at US$95.
This is the first Chronicle Research Services report in a three-part series on what higher education will look like in the year 2020. It is based on reviews of research and data on trends in higher education, interviews with experts who are shaping the future of colleges, and the results of a poll of members of a Chronicle Research Services panel of admissions officials.
The Executive summary commences with this statement:
What is college? And why should I go? Those may be the defining questions for colleges over the next decade. More than an expression of teenage angst, they reflect a fundamental transformation in the way students see higher education, and how they want to go about getting it.

Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education

The Online Learner: Characteristics and Pedagogical Implications, Volume 7, Issue 3 (2007), by Nada Dabbagh. Quoting from the Abstract:

This paper describes the emerging characteristics of the online learner and ensuing pedagogical implications and suggests that exploratory and dialogical online learning pedagogical models are most effective for supporting and promoting these characteristics.

Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology

Monkeys on the Screen?: Multicultural Issues in Instructional Message Design, Volume 35(1) Winter, 2009, by Debbie McAnany. The author suggests that:
To celebrate cultural diversity and meet the challenges associated with designing for diverse learning styles and educational experiences, this paper offers a review of the literature and proposes a systematic three-fold approach to the creation and evaluation of multicultural instructional messages and materials: first, "Do no harm"; second, "Make the learning experience relevant"; and third, "Incorporate global concepts and images into instructional messages."


The Adult Learner: An Eduventures Perspective, Who They Are, What They Want, and How to Reach Them, 2008.

This paper represents a synopsis of today's adult learners: a snapshot of their characteristics, motivations, and preferences with respect to educational opportunities, as well as strategies for recruiting them.

Asian Journal of Distance Education

The Right to Education : A Model for making Higher Education equally accessible to All on the Basis of Merit, vol 6, no 2, pp 5 - 11, 2008, by Sir John Daniel, Asha Kanwar and Stamenka Uvalić-Trumbić. While this paper is focused on access, quality it does explore what the authors describe as a "new type of student" in presenting their new model for higher education. as they explain:
The second reason we require a new model is that students are changing. They are already much more varied than the 18- 23 year-old full-timers in education that constituted almost the sole clientele in higher education for much of the last century. Because students are now very diverse, it is futile to look for a stereotypical student around which to plan. However, within the diversity there are some frequent traits which are found in countries rich and poor.

TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design)

David Logan on tribal leadership a 16 minute video filmed in March 2009. David Logan presents the five stages of tribes and how leaders should move a tribe towards stage five the preferred stage for innovation.

David Logan studies how people communicate within a company -- and how to harness our natural gifts to make change within organizations. He looks at emerging patterns of corporate leadership, organizational transformation, generational differences in the workplace, and team building for high-potential managers and executives.

Research in Science & Technological Education

Working memory, performance and learner characteristics, Volume 27, Issue 2 July 2009, pages 187 - 204, by Huda Hindal, Norman Reid and Manal Badgaish. Quoting from the Abstract::

A range of characteristics of learners is described and their relationship to working memory discussed in the context of teaching and learning in the sciences. The characteristics are extent of field dependency, visual spatial abilities, divergency and convergency... Most of the work is set in Kuwait, with some data from Saudi Arabia. It is found that working memory capacity correlates highly significantly with all the learner characteristics and this is interpreted in terms of the way information is processed in the brain. Some implications for learning in the sciences are discussed.


Planning for Neomillennial Learning Styles, Volume 28, No 1, 2005, by Chris Dede. The author argues that:
Rapid advances in information technology are reshaping the learning styles of many students in higher education. The standard "world to the desktop" interface is now complemented by
  • multiuser virtual environments in which people’s avatars interact with each other, computer-based agents, and digital artifacts in a simulated context; and
  • augmented realities in which mobile wireless devices infuse overlays of digital data on physical real-world settings.

Higher education institutions can prosper by using these emerging technologies to deliver instruction matched to the increasingly "neomillennial" learning styles of their students.

First Monday

The digital melting pot: Bridging the digital native-immigrant divide, Volume 14, Number 7 - 6 July 2009, by Sharon Stoerger. Quoting from the Introduction of the article:

The purpose of this paper is three–fold: first, the paper investigates the digital native–digital immigrant metaphor; the next section critically examines some of the claims about these tech–savvy young people; and, the concluding segment explores a proposed alternative to the digital native–digital immigrant dichotomy — the digital melting pot.

A Gendered World: Students and Instructional Technologies, Volume 8, Number 1 - 6 January 2003, by Indhu Rajagopal and Nis Bojin. This study looks at the questions:
Are gender differences relevant in the students' learning process and their use of technological components in their courses? Is gender significant in determining the use of IT by students in colleges and universities? Does the study of how gender influences students' use of software and presentation formats, throw light on other general behavioural aspects of academic computer-users?

Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning

Revisiting gender in open and distance learning - an independent variable or a mediated reality? Volume 24, Issue 2 June 2009 , pages 165 - 185 by Rekha Sharma Sen and Pema Eden Samdup. The authors argue:
One of the frames through which the context needs to be understood is gender. There is research stating that gender both structures and influences the world of the learner and learner experience; therefore, learning needs to be contextualised to women's personal, social, mental and emotional milieux. Through a qualitative inquiry, undertaken within the constructivist framework, aimed at uncovering the perspectives of learners and counsellors associated with five programmes of Indira Gandhi National Open University, the present paper attempts to revisit gender in open and distance learning (ODL). It seeks to uncover the impact of gender on learning through the distance mode; the need and availability of support structures in ODL to address the specific needs of women; the reflection and transaction of gender perspectives in content and pedagogy and, through this, to identify issues that may be relevant in the present-day context. The findings of the study are not a function of gender alone. A matrix of variables appears to impact learner experience and response to ODL - the structuring of the programme and its requirements, the role(s) played by the counsellors, the motivations and the learning milieux created by the learners - all independently and collectively influence the learners' - male and female - experience of ODL. While gender is not the independent variable each time, this does not mean that there are no gender-specific issues any more - only that they need to be examined and answered in a particular context.
Characteristics of distance learners: research on relationships of learning motivation, learning strategy, self-efficacy, attribution and learning results, Volume 23, Issue 1 February 2008 , pages 17 - 28, by Ying Wang, Huamao Peng, Ronghuai Huang, Yanhua Hou and Jingjing Wang. Quoting from the Abstract:
This research uses adapted self-assessment questionnaires to examine the relationships between the learning motivation, learning strategies, self-efficacy, attribution and learning results of 135 distance learners. The aim is to model the relationship between psychological characteristics and learning results of distance learners. The outcomes of this study show that a relationship exists between psychological characteristics and learning scores of distance learners.

Other sites to explore

The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning

Persistence in University Continuing Education Online Classes by Jia Frydenberg, University of California Irvine, Vol 8, No 3 (2007). Quoting from the Abstract:
This study presents persistence and attrition data from two years of data collection. Over the eight quarters studied, the persistence rate in online courses was 79 percent. The persistence rate for similar onground courses was 84 percent. The drops for both course modalities were disaggregated by the time of the request for withdrawal: before course start, during the initial week, and during instruction. There was a significant difference between online and onground requests for withdrawals during the initial week. There was no significant difference between online and onground drop rates after the start of instruction, leading to the conclusion that differences in instruction online and onground was unlikely to be a major influencing factor in the student’s decision to drop.

First Monday

Web-based learning: Factors affecting students' satisfaction and learning experience, Volume 10, Number 11 - 7 November 2005, by Kyung-Sun kim and Joi L. Moore. Quoting from the abstract:

This study investigates how students’ characteristics and behaviors affect their satisfaction and learning experience within Web–based courses. Eighty–two graduate students taking a Web–based course from a Midwest university participated in the study... Findings suggest that students’ interaction with classmates and their instructor may have an impact on their satisfaction with Web–based courses. In addition, students’ gender and their perceived level of course difficulty seem to be correlated with interaction.

Student attrition

The Silent Epidemic Perspectives of High School Dropouts. A report by Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, by John M. Bridgeland, John J. DiIulio Jr., Karen Burke Morison, March 2006. While thew report is focused on high school students its findings are relevant for consideration in relation to young in higher education students.

Higher Education Empirical Research Database (HEERD)

Conceptions of learning, approaches to studying and personal development in UK higher education (2009), by R. Edmunds and J. Richardson, British Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 79, No 2, pp295 - 309. This HEERD site provides only the summary of the article.

The article describes research undertaken as part of a larger ESRC-funded project concerned with the range of learning outcomes in the UK’s increasingly diverse higher education system. This strand aimed to explore students’ conceptions of learning and approaches to studying from their first year to the second year after graduation. It also investigated the relationship between their conceptions of learning and approaches to studying and their personal development.

To obtain a free sample the full article will require registering with the British Journal of Educational Psychology.

Emotional journeys: young people and transitions to university (2009), by H. Christie, (2009), British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol 30, No 2, pp123-136. This HEERD site provides only the summary of the article.

The article draws on data gathered from a project on the experiences of non-traditional students attending two pre-1992 universities in Scotland. The sample comprised 27 second and third year students who had taken part in a widening access course before enrolling at university; they were interviewed for the project about their retrospective perceptions of transitions to university life. This paper focuses on the experiences of the 12 younger students (aged 25 years or below).

A free sample copy is available by registering with the British Journal of Sociology of Education.

Journal of The First-Year Experience & Students in Transition

Developing a Student Typology to Examine the Effectiveness of First-Year Seminars, Volume 20, Number 2 / 2008 by Julie Weissman1 and Brett A. Magill1. This paper is only available for the cost of US$12.00 Quoting from the Abstract:
This article describes a study that used cluster analysis to develop a typology of student groups based on precollege characteristics and examined the influence of two types of seminars on the academic performance and retention of each student group. The findings indicate that the influence of each type of seminar varied among the groups. They also suggest that students' precollege characteristics can be moderated by participation in the appropriate type of first-year seminar. Knowledge of their own students' characteristics may assist institutions in targeting students more effectively for particular first-year seminars and, thus, enhance academic success and retention.


More related sites can be found at the DE Hub Delicious site.