Learner Characteristics and Patterns of Online Learning: How Online Learners Successfully Manage their Learning

Trish Andrews, Educational Consultancy, Australia, Belinda Tynan, The Open University, United Kingdom


Online distance learning is a rapidly growing segment of the education market with many institutions adopting this form of delivery to increase their flexibility and competiveness in a global environment. Given its importance in providing different opportunities for both learners and institutions, the rapid growth in online distance learning over the last two decades has led to a considerable focus on researching a range of issues that impact on the online distance learner experience. These investigations have focussed primarily on instructional or learning design, interaction and communication in learning communities, learner characteristics and attrition. While much focus has been on the types of interventions that organisations might deploy to limit attrition and ensure a successful learning experience for online learners, it remains that learners cannot be easily classified into homogenous groups. There is a need to understand more deeply who they are and how they behave as individual online distance learners. With this in mind, the focus of the research reported on here was ‘how do mature-age distance learners go about learning?’ by providing insight into the lived experience of individual learners.

The paper situates the research in the macro, meso, micro theoretical framework for researching online distance learning and focuses this study at the micro-level with a focus on learner characteristics. The paper explores the role of learner characteristics and learner behaviour patterns in online learning and discusses the general findings of the study including students’ ability to orchestrate time and to ensure a feeling of wellbeing. The paper also provides four case studies that demonstrate the patterns that some distance learners have developed or adopted to support successful outcomes in online distance learning. The paper outlines the methodology used to uncover learner characteristics and patterns and their importance in supporting successful participation in online distance learning. The paper concludes with some suggestions for further research.

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e-learning, distance learning, distance education, online learning, higher education, DE, blended learning, ICT, MOOCs, information and communication technology, collaborative learning, internet, learning management system, LMS, interaction,

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