Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Yes! #PhD written... looking for joyful bliss once more

So, this is it. My thesis is submitted and it will now be wrapped and sent out to my examiners. For anyone interested, you can read the thesis here. The full title: self-directed learning of adult experienced online learners enrolled in FutureLearn MOOCs

Emerging from my last two months of seemingly living in total isolation, it looks like the world has changed while I was reflecting, discussion, investigating the studies for my PhD. I have grown wiser, and become more aware of the fact that the more I learn, the less I know. Unfortunately, it also seems I lost some of my playful self… I am hoping it will come back as my mind rejuvenates after having typed for weeks on end. John Traxler commented on that seemingly loss of joyful bliss, and he was right. I have become less joyful, less open these last few weeks. Ciska found out the hard way yesterday. She opened my thesis looking forward to what I had written to thank her… and only found the briefest of dedications at the beginning of my thesis (I admit shamefully). My justification was that I wanted to keep it ‘formal’… I was wrong, of course, formality never helped anyone. I should have know better, as research is not void from passion. Indeed, I think no meaningful research can be done without passion being at the root of it. So I vowed to make it up to her and put in a full dedication in the final open to the public version of my thesis (for those interested, you can read it in the first pages of my thesis). If you have a family, and any member is starting a PhD, you can rest assured that all of the family is enrolled in this reflective journey, and I am truly grateful that Ciska and Isaak are on my side, ready for any adventure.

"Any thoughts?", asked a friend while I was off to submit my thesis…. Yes, these: a PhD is in a way a socialization. I now know what it means to make words look like evidence and not only use the evidence, but deliver it in a way that is agreed upon academically. It is good that no facts are facts, but only free for interpretation, and that these interpretations demand rationales. I learned a lot along the way: building and evaluating methods, grounding emerging facts in theories, writing, structure, deepen understanding by discussing data, theories and wild options. Researching in a strong academic institute such as IET certainly helps to become a mentally enriched academic. But above all, I think that academic excellence is vastly improved if you have strong, experienced supervisors. I was lucky enough to have two inspiring, intellectually tough and constructive supervisors: MikeSharples (the visionary academic lead of FutureLearn) and Agnes Kukulska-Hulme (renowned mobile learning expert).

And now… off to find a new challenge. While reviewing as well as writing some papers, giving some talks and getting back in touch with playfulness.... oh wait, quickly adding the abstract to my thesis below:

This research investigates the informal learning journeys of 56 experienced adult online learners engaging in individual and/or social self-directed learning using any device to follow a FutureLearn course. Literature from MOOCs, mobile and informal learning is provided as background, as well as literature clarifying the rational for choosing self-directed learning compared to similar learning concepts (self-regulated, self-determined and self-managed learning).
The participants of this study voluntarily followed one of three FutureLearn courses that were rolled out for the first time late 2014. The data were collected at three different stages: an online survey (pre-course), self-reported learning logs (during the course), and semi-structured one-on-one interviews (post-course). The data were analysed using Charmaz’s (2014) method for constructing a grounded theory. The analysis included memo-writing, and involved open coding, line-by-line coding, and focused coding in order to construct a grounded theory that provided insights into the self-directed learning experiences of FutureLearn participants.
Based on the experience of the FutureLearn participants five main learning components emerged: individual & social learning, context, technological and media elements, organising learning, and learner characteristics. Further analysis revealed two key enablers/inhibitors for the FutureLearn experience: motivation and learning goals. Motivation was mostly intrinsic in nature, and the learning goals mostly personal. Although these components, and the two key impacting factors, are common to most types of learning, the informal nature of the FutureLearn courses together with the FutureLearn platform characteristics provided specific differences in the actions undertaken by the FutureLearn participants to self-direct their learning.
By getting a better understanding of the self-directed learning in FutureLearn courses, additional insights are gained regarding informal learning, instructional design, continued professional development with MOOCs, and on how to contextualize or personalise course content in order to obtain increased learner engagement.