Phenomenographic research on adult students’ experiences of learning and conceptualisations of success in their online postgraduate programmes

Rotar, Olga and Passey, Don (2021) Phenomenographic research on adult students’ experiences of learning and conceptualisations of success in their online postgraduate programmes. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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The rapid development of online distance programmes has increased the popularity of higher education among adult students. Despite the suggested benefits of online higher education (OHE), adults may experience various challenges and barriers when adapting to it. Yet, research tends to oversimplify adults’ learning experiences to fit historical assumptions. This study examines qualitatively different ways of experiencing online learning and conceptualising success by adult students. A detailed picture of these variations was drawn from primary interviews made with the participants of two online postgraduate programmes. The chosen phenomenographic research design embeds a principle of diversity, assisting in uncovering qualitative variations in students’ accounts and leading to two hierarchically structured models. In response to research question one, the analysis demonstrated three ways of experiencing online learning: as an investment, as a process that brings structure, and as a process that enables and empowers. The context in which learning is conceptualised is proposed to explain the identified variations. The second research question uncovered the structure of the concept of success, in which a more complex perspective on success - success as self-actualisation - embraced the features of more simplistic ones. To highlight the nature of identified variations and situatedness of adult students’ learning aspirations, I provide an analysis of contextual backgrounds within which the notions of success has been discussed. Research question three hypothesises relationships between two phenomena under question. Within the confines of levels of evidence collected in this study, generalisations cannot be made, but it provides a more detailed empirically grounded picture of the phenomenon of online learning as experienced by adult students than it has been previously offered. Furthermore, it offers a holistic view of students’ diverse conceptualisations of success. In this way, the study makes a distinctive contribution to the research literature on adult students’ learning experiences in OHE and to discourse on student success.

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Thesis (PhD)
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19 Jul 2021 09:05
Last Modified:
19 Jul 2024 01:16