A case study of the effectiveness of the delivery of work based learning from the perspective of stakeholders in Computing, Engineering and Information Sciences at Northumbria University

Liyanage, Lalith (2013) A case study of the effectiveness of the delivery of work based learning from the perspective of stakeholders in Computing, Engineering and Information Sciences at Northumbria University. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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Work-Based Learning (WBL) has increasingly become an area of interest for the higher education sector. It can be defined as an approach to education where learning towards accredited qualifications is relevant to and draws on the student’s workplace role and situation. This education can take place via a range of delivery methods. For this study, this definition has been further narrowed down to concentrate on WBL that is delivered by the university to those in the workplace and results in accredited higher education qualifications, where the learning contract is rooted in the discipline and draws on the student’s workplace role and situation.

Northumbria University is considered one of the leaders in WBL delivery in the UK. All the faculties in the university deliver WBL programmes across a number of different disciplines. These programmes encompass a wide range of delivery formats including face-to-face, correspondence distance and online delivery.

The aim of this research study is to contribute to the research in this area by conducting an in depth study of the effectiveness of the delivery of WBL from the perspective of a range of stakeholders including students, programme leaders, tutors, university support services, employers and representatives of professional bodies. There is a wealth of literature that concentrates on the learner and education provider and occasionally the employer but little that has attempted to directly investigate the wider stakeholder environment in which WBL takes place and how this contributes to the effectiveness of the WBL experience. To gain the deep insights needed for such a study, the research approach adopted a case study methodology which included mixed method research techniques for data capture and analysis combining both qualitative and quantitative approaches.

The study examined the perspective of stakeholders drawn from five WBL programmes across the disciplines of Engineering, Computing, and Information Sciences delivered by the Faculty of Engineering and Environment at Northumbria University. These programmes primarily use online learning delivery format with some blended learning components and comprise four postgraduate programmes and one undergraduate programme. An online survey was administered among all the students whilst in depth interviews were conducted among all the stakeholders including students. The case study explored the students’ demographic characteristics, experience of WBL and characteristics of their learning experience. Data from the other stakeholders was analysed to both cross validate the students’ feedback and to learn about their own contribution to the effectiveness of the WBL process. The analysis was performed in relation to the three main factors identified to be most influential: quality, access and support.

The original contribution to knowledge and the significance of this study can be seen in three different areas. Firstly, eight main themes and three subthemes have emerged from the data analysis of this case study. These themes and sub themes were consolidated through triangulation of the qualitative and quantitative outcomes. They illustrate the key drivers and factors underpinning the effectiveness of WBL in the selected case study and have been used to classify the main strengths and issues of WBL that have emerged from the data and develop a set of recommendations to address the main key issues. For example, ‘Accreditation of Prior Learning’ and ‘Tailoring of Learning Contracts’ emerged as key attractions for students to embark on WBL programmes. The need for the use of technology in learning was highlighted by students to support the distance delivery of content, communications and assessments, whilst academics came out with the issues and challenges which prevented them from being able to use technology effectively. Thus one of the key recommendations arising from this study is the need to provide assistance and support to academics to engage with technology in learning to support WBL. ‘Student isolation’ was found to be an issue in some disciplines where mentor and peer support cannot be facilitated and thus developing approaches that reduce student isolation is another key recommendation. One final example is that a majority of students prefer ‘blended learning’ where distance online learning is combined with some face to face components compared to purely distance online learning. This is a challenge particularly where students are dispersed over a large geographical area.

Secondly this research study has considered the range of key stakeholder groups: student, employer, academic and professional body, and their contribution to the effectiveness of WBL programmes. This consideration has highlighted the specific impact they have on the effectiveness of WBL. For example employers’ support was found to be particularly useful for the development of learning contracts and for onsite mentoring support during the lifetime of the students’ studies. Professional bodies contribute through the process of accreditation of WBL programmes/qualifications for students’ professional registration. In this study this proved to be a key motivational factor for the students to embark on WBL. A four pillar model has been constructed to illustrate consideration of the range of stakeholders and this has been applied to two existing WBL frameworks to show how such consideration might be applied in practice. In the first example, the researcher has taken an existing approach to online WBL course design, development and delivery practice and adapted it to include consideration of the range of stakeholders at appropriate times in the process to strengthen the WBL experience. In a second example, the researcher has taken an existing WBL maturity toolkit and shown how it could be adapted to include consideration and input from the full range of stakeholders on the readiness to engage in WBL. The study provides key recommendations to each of the stakeholders separately which should enhance the effectiveness of the WBL provision.

The final contribution to knowledge that emerges from this work is focused on each of the embedded units within the case study. Each of these embedded units represents a separate WBL programme and an analysis was performed to highlight the key strengths of each of these programmes and their main deficiencies. For example, the MSc Professional Engineering programme uses 100% tailoring of workplace projects in student learning contracts which benefit the employers. The academics’ role is primarily centered on guiding those students to document the learning outcomes from those workplace projects against their individualised programme learning outcomes. In order to support them better, students felt that academics should upload online content for the more generic topics such as research methodologies which could be new to them and quite challenging to understand. In contrast, the MSc Information and Library Management programme takes a more generic approach to its learning content and has minimal tailoring. The students and employers benefit from application of this learning content to their own environment through assignments and the final MSc project. One approach to further tailor the programme to the needs of the organisation and employee would be to offer more focused module options. This analysis of the individual programmes has helped pinpoint areas for further development.

This study has conducted an in depth case study of the effectiveness of the delivery of WBL across three discipline areas at one university. This has not only provided a number of key findings from the case itself but it has also demonstrated the benefits of considering the wider stakeholder contexts in such a study. It also provides exemplars of how others can build on this work to embed these wider stakeholder contexts in WBL toolkits and associated practices to provide enhanced provision.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: online learning, distance education, massive open online courses, MOOC, National Online Distance Education Service, NODES, UK Gateways Project
Subjects: P100 Information Services
X300 Academic studies in Education
Department: Faculties > Engineering and Environment > Computer and Information Sciences
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: Ellen Cole
Date Deposited: 20 Feb 2015 16:13
Last Modified: 17 Dec 2023 16:22
URI: https://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/21418

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