Vuxnas lärande på nätet : Betingelser för distansstudier och interaktivt lärande ur ett studentperspektiv

Sammanfattning: This thesis is a part of a project, “Interactive Learning in Distance Education”, funded by The Swedish Research Council. The overall purpose was, from adult distance learners’ perspective, to describe, analyse and understand factors influencing studies and interactive learning in asynchronous computer-mediated learning environments. Da¬ta were collected in 2003; from 62 students (56 women and six men) attending an undergraduate and a supplementary distance cour¬se within the teacher training program. The study was based on questionnaires, diaries, portfolios, interviews and transcriptions of students’ postings to the computer conferences FirstClass and Web¬Board, respectively. The courses included campus meetings and individual studies accompanied by study guides containing reading instructions, timetables and individual as well as group-related assign¬ments. Asynchronous text-based, computer-mediated commu¬nication (CMC) was used for dialogue among the participants. The results indicate that difficulties to combine studies with commitments in the students’ everyday lives and lack of familiarity with higher education and computer mediated distance education constituted learning obstacles. Almost everyone emphasised the importance of communicaion with peer students for feeling satisfied in the study and learning situation. They appreciated the asynchronous text-based CMC because it increased the flexibility of the studies. The students´ online behaviour and statements also indicate feelings of social presence and solidarity with peer learners, despite using a medium with relatively low capacity to convey social cues. Female and male students described similar difficulties of combining family, work and study. Women sho¬wed lower self-esteem in terms of computer skills and coping with their studies. They highlighted the social importance of the studygroup to a higher extent than the men did. The ideal course design in terms of structure, dialogue and autonomy altered depending on students´ perceptions of benefits. They wanted flexibility and autonomy to be able to combine the studies with commitments in their everyday life, at the same time they appreciated elements of structure and governance in situations when these involved saving of time. The communication in the computer conferences was extensive but the analysis of the learners’ contributions provides little evidence of effective collaborative learning activities. Several reasons to this were discussed, e.g. students´ lack of time and knowledge to form functioning learning communities, as well as insufficient course design to promote and support collaborative distance learning. It was concluded that there is a gap between teachers' ambitions to create an interactive learning environment on the one hand, and students´ skills, attitudes to collaboration and need to share their time between studies and other commitments on the other. Also, teachers´ ambitions to develop distance education aiming at collaboration and interactive learning are often hampered by their limited skills and time frames to design and implement such courses.