A Triple Helix of Learning Processes - How to cultivate learning, communication and collaboration among distance-education learners
Abstract: This work focuses on collaborative learning and how it canbe applied and supported in distance education. Previous workindi-cates that distance learners experience more loneliness,technical problems and lack of stimulation than face-to-facelearners do. Collaboration with peers may improve the feelingof connectedness and engagement. However, collaborativelearning is not the answer to all problems in distanceeducation--and it creates new problems. The present workexplores problems, opportunities and processes whencollaborative learning is introduced in distance education--andsuggests solutions.Related research on distance education andcomputer-supported collaborative learning is reviewed andrelated to own research. The different roles of information andcommunication technology in these areas are described.Six own research papers are reviewed and integrated. Threeof them explore university courses on computer use in society.Learners interacted mainly through a forum system, i.e. asystem for text-based, asynchronous electronic conferences anddiscussions. The special character offorum communication hadan impact on communication and collaboration processes. Onepaper summarizes these results and deduces a first list of tipsto teachers and systems designers, aiming to reduce problemsand take advantage of collabo-rative-learningopportunities.One paper, a report to the Swedish School Board, provides anoverview of research on distance education, withrecommendations for use in secondary schools.To get a broader picture of distance-education learners andtheir special situation and interests, a study was conducted inAustralia. Most of the learners were secondary-school students,living far away from towns. Communication was normallyrestricted to mail, radio and telephone. Opportunities forcollaboration between peers were rare, and correspondencetraditions and the lack of technological infrastructure weredelaying changes. However, a development towards morecollaborative learning had started.Empirical data were gathered ethnographically in naturalcourse settings. Results were analysed using 'activity theory'as a framework.The main contribution of this work is a description of howthree groups of learning processes develop and interact: (a) ofcontent, (b) of communication, and (c) of collaboration. Theyform the spiralling model of a"Triple Helix". Finally, detailed advice is given aschecklists to organisations, teachers, learners and systemdesigners.Keywords:Distance education, Collaborative learning,Computer-supported collaborative learning, Information andcommuni-cation technology, ICT, Forum system, Learningprocesses.
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