Keywords:Case Study, Facilitator, Learner, Networked e-Learning, Phenomenology, Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)
This phenomenological case study investigates the lived experiences of a group of virtual learning environment (VLE) postgraduate academic facilitators at Irish Universities where they have indicated that the nature of their relationship with learners is shifting. It aims for a deeper understanding of the phenomena of the changing facilitator – learner relationship in a Networked e-Learning environment (an asynchronous VLE with discussion forums, virtual labs and collaborative assignments). The author’s role as a highly experienced facilitator provides particular and specific insight into the guiding facilitator’s experiences during a time of institutional transition to Networked e-Learning. A theoretical framework based on Beaty and Howard (2010) is used to explore the networked relationship, i.e. their core set of boundary characteristics, central to the way networked learning is conceptualised and experienced which are the characteristic of expertise, the boundaries of the facilitator-learner relationship, communication and content and the professional development of Networked e-learning facilitators. Conclusions are presented as four themes describing how participants perceived the impact of Networked e-Learning on the changing facilitator – learner relationship. These themes highlight the differences between the current interpretative phenomenological analysis and the initial framework of Beaty and Howard (2010): (1) Expertise of facilitators and learners is a shifting quality depending on activity, participant roles and technological context; (2) Boundaries traditionally placed around facilitators and learners are shifting; (3) Communication like content is considered highly important for both facilitators and learners; (4) Professional development for facilitators must be re-conceptualised. Recommendations include the requirement to initiate revised forms of professional development for Networked e-Learning facilitators. Limitations included the relatively low number of participants.
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