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From Students to Lifelong Learners: How the Offered Affordances of Digital Personal Learning Environments Support the Students

Master Thesis in ICT based educational design, University of Aarhus, by Mette Søgaard, counsellor: Pantelis Papadopoulos, external examiner: Kjetil Sandvig, handed in November 1. 2016


This thesis takes its beginning with a survey regarding use of digital tools among students and staff at two universities. Nine different study programs in all. Because of the dialectical relationships between people and their environment, it is of importance, what tools we use.
At the same time, we live in a time, where no one can expect to be educated for a lifetime by graduation. We need constantly to learn and relearn, as workers and members of society in all aspects, as humans. We know our tools shape us – as we shape our tools – hence it is not indifferent with what tools we solve our tasks. We know digital tools and the technology behind it is not fully matured in a technical or functional sense: It is “tools in progress”.
When it comes to formal education the universities I have looked into both are centred around digital tools as expected “tools of the future trade”. That is all good and fine. But are the tools ready for what is expected after formal education, do the tools afford lifelong learning? I have examined the question with a survey and supporting interviews and discussed the statistical outcome up against both Knowles’ humanistic Lifelong Education and the political framework “Eight Key Competencies” from the European Union.
Although statistics often are perceived as quantitative and looking for causality, I have not wished for that, nor was it possible: I look into the diversity of the tools and describe them. In the numbers, I find it overall feasible to make an educational design meeting the requirements of “Eight Key Competencies” training the students’ appropriate working habits without compromising the standards of formal education.
Of course, the statistical material does not reveal how the tools are used, only that the tools leave room for the educator to design for both purposes: formal education and informal training in the Eight Key Competencies.
In the material, I find a reason to believe didactic considerations have an impact on what tools are being used. There is no reason to believe habitual choices in tools does, not from staff, nor from TAs.
I tested the dataset regarding users of LMS, Learning Management System. And there was significance to find: Reporters of LMS mention several other tools than non-reporters.
The same goes for reporters of tools affording programming. Of course, there is a lot of “tools of the future trade”, but also surprisingly many other tools were used by programmers.

Both answers were surprising to me.

I had the possibility to go deeper into the dataset and ask more detailed questions, not settling for an affordance. The affordance “search” did not show significance, but when separated in tools something showed up: some of the study programs used Wikipedia significantly more than expected. Some hardly used academic repositories. I was actually surprised by the difference in searching style.

I ended up concluding it to be feasible to design for lifelong learning parallel to formal education.