Distance Learners’ Study-Related Interactions with Other People in their Life-Contexts: Investigating an Unexplored Phenomenon

Distance Learners’ Study-Related Interactions with Other People in their Life-Contexts: Investigating an Unexplored Phenomenon

Sharon Watson (Deakin University, Australia)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4205-8.ch021
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Abstract

Distance learners are typically embedded within rich and complex life-contexts that comprise family, friends, work colleagues, and community connections. However, relatively few studies explore the interplay between distance learners’ life-contexts and their studies and none examine the study-related interactions distance learners engage in with other people in their life-contexts. Changes currently occurring in the higher education sector, including the emergence of postgraduate lifelong learners, mean this position is becoming untenable. This research note provides an overview of a study currently under development that is intended to shed light on this unexplored phenomena.
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Distance Learners’ Life-Contexts: An Unexamined Source Of Interaction?

Contrary to a common stereotype that permeates the literature, most distance learners are neither “isolated” nor “lonely” but are instead embedded within rich and complex life-contexts that comprise family, friends, work colleagues and community connections (Eastmond, 1995; Gibson, 1998; 2003; Gillis, Jackson, Braid, MacDonald, & MacQuarrie, 2000; Anderson, 2003a; 2003b). This is because even though a degree of convergence is occurring between distance learners and their campus-based counterparts (Wallace, 1996; Calvert, 2005; Kirkwood & Price, 2005), a substantial proportion of distance learners in advanced industrialised nations continue to be working adults aged between twenty-five and forty-five who have busy, established lives and are studying part-time to improve or upgrade their vocational skills and knowledge (Gibson, 1998; 2003; Kirkwood & Price, 2005; Moore & Kearsley, 2005; DETC, 2007; Peters, 2008). They may be physically and psychologically separated from their educational provider and the other learners in their program, but they typically live in urban communities and have strong social and intellectual connections with a range of other people in their lives and seek to maintain these whilst studying (Eastmond, 1995; Gillis et al., 2000; Scott, 2007). In common with many other adult learners, their primary identity derives from their life-context rather than the learning context, and whilst they value education, they are rarely able to make it their highest priority due to work and family commitments (Eastmond, 1995; 1998; Kember, 1995; 1999; Gibson, 2003; Kirkwood & Price, 2005; Lowe & Gayle, 2007). Their choice to study by distance education often reflects this, because it enables them to fit their studies around their life-contexts rather than vice versa (Wallace, 1996; Gillis et al., 2000; Furst-Bowe & Dittman, 2001; Bates, 2005; Kirkwood & Price, 2005; Moore & Kearsley, 2005).

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