A phenomenological investigation of Online learners' lived experiences of engagement

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A phenomenological investigation of Online learners' lived experiences of engagement

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This study examined the phenomenon of learner engagement as it was experienced by adult learners while learning online. Learner engagement has been suggested to be one of the most significant predictors of learning and academic achievement (National Research Council, 2004; Russell, Ainley, & Frydenberg, 2005; Skinner & Belmont, 1993), and several instructional design models have been proposed to meet the challenges associated with supporting engagement among learners in online learning environments (Kearsley, 2000; Conrad & Donaldson, 2004). However, many of these models are based on abstract conceptualizations of engagement, which vary greatly, rather than how it is actually experienced by online learners. As online learning becomes increasingly more prevalent in various adult learning and postsecondary educational contexts (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2010), educators are prompted to consider how engagement is actually being experienced by adult learners within virtual environments, what dynamics influence it, and how their efforts might help promote and foster it. A phenomenological understanding of learners' perceptions as they experience engagement while learning in online courses holds great potential to provide new insights into online teaching and learning from an authentic, learner-centered perspective. To this end, the purpose of this study is to help adult and higher education professionals, including online instructors, facilitators, and instructional designers, understand more deeply how adult learners may experience engagement in online learning environments by addressing the following research questions: (1) What is it like to be an adult learner in online learning environments? (2) What is it like to experience engagement in online learning environments? and (3) How do various elements of learning online and dynamics of the learning environment influence adult learners' feelings of engagement?This qualitative study utilized interpretive phenomenological methodology and a post-intentional phenomenological research design (Vagle, 2010a) to investigate four adult learners' lived experiences of engagement while enrolled in a completely online, graduate-level, university course. For eight months following the conclusion of the course, qualitative methods were used to collect data from the research participants' personal narrative accounts shared through individual interviews, written lived experience descriptions (van Manen, 1990, p. 63-66), and other digital media artifacts created as part of the learning activities while the course was in progress. Iterative cycles of phenomenological data analysis using a whole-parts-whole approach captured <italic>tentative manifestations<italic> (Vagle, 2010a, p. 7) of the phenomenon of engagement as it was experienced in online learning environments and revealed in shifting and changing ways. Thematic analysis (van Manen, 1990, p. 78) was also used to identify three themes of pedagogic significance: (1) The <italic>unbounded<italic> nature of learning online may significantly impact the overall learning experience, especially how engagement is experienced; (2) Engagement may be experienced online as a form of <italic>praxis<italic>; and (3) There is a <italic>temporal<italic> nature to engagement in online learning environments, suggesting that it changes over time and space, according to the influence of various dynamics. Research findings also suggest particular dynamics that influenced the lived experience of engagement online, including learner autonomy and shared decision-making. The insights gained from this study were used to propose a flexible online engagement model that suggests research-based pedagogical design principles to help promote and foster engaging online learning experiences.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. October 2013. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisors: Aaron H. Doering, Cassandra M. Scharber. 1 computer file (PDF); ix, 188 pages, appendices A-G

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Pazurek-Tork, Angelica L.. (2014). A phenomenological investigation of Online learners' lived experiences of engagement. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/168281.

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