Wednesday, 16 October, 2013

Paper Review: Realigning Higher Education for the 21st-Century Learner through Multi-Access Learning

Irvine, V., Code, J., & Richards, L. (2013). Realigning higher education for the 21st-century learner through multi-access learning. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(2), 172-186.
The authors report results from a pilot study on one type of multi-access course, where students were able to choose their mode of access. In this case, remote students accessed the course via webcam and joined their on-campus classmates and instructor who were together face-to-face.
Multi-access learning is defined by Irvine as a framework for enabling students in both face-to-face and online contexts to personalize learning experiences while engaging as a part of the same course. Multi-access learning is different than blended learning because it places the student at the centre of the learning experience as opposed to the instructor or the institution. With multi-access learning, each individual learner decides how he/she wishes to take the course (e.g., face-to-face or online) and can then participate with other students and the instructor – each of whom have their own modality preferences – at the same time.

The paper has addressed following research questions:
  • What was the rank order of learner preference for mode of access?
  • How important was it for learners to have choice in selecting access modes?
  • How did the experience participating in a multi-access course affect learner perceptions of quality of learning?
Research was conducted using a 17-question online survey that included demographic information on age, gender, education program, and teaching area. Items also gathered information on student experience with online courses, preferences for course access mode, and open-ended questions. Following the administration of the online survey, additional qualitative data was obtained through multiple interviews conducted with a subsample of the participants and separately with the instructor. Out of class of 26 secondary education students, 16 gave consent to participate in this study. Fifteen responses were found valid and were analyzed. Following were the results:
  • Learners preferred multi-access for course modality
  • All responses by the learners who had taken an online course before ranked the choice of delivery as very important.
  • 57% of respondents reported they perceived the quality of learning as increased and 42.9% respondents reported the quality of learning as being the same.
The authors argue that the multi-access framework is an alternative approach to the MOOC design for those who want access to higher learning.

The authors have advocated use of multi-access learning as against MOOC to increase accessibility to higher education. Due to small sample size and restricted context, the results may not have universal applicability but they nevertheless argue for suitability of multi-access learning.
Multi-access learning has its use in many cases though its feasibility could be low in most of the cases. Nevertheless, more research in this area may help establish its effectiveness over traditional classroom sessions and MOOCs.

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