Open All Hours - Do students really want to access on-line learning 24/7?
An increasing number of HE institutions are adopting virtual and managed learning environments (VLEs and MLEs), which offer flexible access to on-line learning materials all day and every day. There are multiple claims about e-learning enhancing learning and teaching (Britain and Liber, 1999; Conole, 2002; Allen, 2003; Littlejohn and Higginson, 2003) – such as supporting active learning, facilitative rather than didactic teaching and increased student motivation – but these are not pre-determined outcomes. Much depends on how lecturers use them and how students respond to that use. This paper reports on a research project which has evaluated the students’ own experience of on-line learning at a British university. Using its own institution-wide MLE (Studynet) they have offered students on-line access to their study material since 2001. Activities available for students using the MLE include, participating in discussion forums, using formative assessment materials and accessing journal articles as well as viewing and downloading courseware. Eight focus groups were used to follow-up issues raised from a structured survey of more than 900 students whose views were invited on:- • the importance of being able to access their learning outside the traditional class contact times, • accessibility of e.learning • flexibility • the usefulness of course materials on-line. Furthermore, did the presence of course materials on-line merely encourage them to forego the usual class contact in lectures and tutorials or did it provide an additional opportunity to engage in their learning before and after the contact time? In discussing their findings the authors will also report on the perceived importance to students of an MLE when making their choice of course and institution and the ways in which students felt that use of the MLE could improve pedagogy.