The lived experience of being a distance learner.
Dickie, Simonne D. M.
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The intent of this study is to explore purposefully the “being and becoming” a distance learner. The aim is to inquire into the meaning and significance of distance learning by asking “what?” is distance learning as experienced by four learners (myself, Louise, Axel, and Meg). We examine the moments of a distance learner and pass through the moments themselves as lived experiences. The purpose of explicating the distance learning experience is to discover meanings and communications that could affect the learners’ well-being. By exploring the phenomenon of being a distance learner, we can gain insights into how the distance learning environment is inhabited or known. The thesis begins with an introduction that raises the questions: How is distance learning experienced? What is the meaning of distance learning for learners? When we are learning at a distance, what is it we are attempting to do, to accomplish, to gain, to discover? I use personal narratives to begin the phenomenological hermeneutic process of trying to understand the meaning of being a distance learner. There is the underlying assumption that we can learn from other people’s lived experiences, and can even relate to the similarities or differences between our lifeworlds. The second chapter gives a broad overview of the distance learning world, which, because of their connections to distance learning, leads to a discussion of the lifelong learning system and personal development. In addition, there is a detailed account that explains why qualitative research, and in particular, the phenomenological hermeneutic approach, is an appropriate method to use for this particular inquiry. Chapter three describes the methodology, phenomenological hermeneutic research. It serves to explain important phenomenological concepts, which have direct relevance to research methodology, and lays out the approach that is used to investigate the “ lived experience of being a distance learner.” Chapter four is Louise’s chapter. Her narratives are the first ones to lead the way into our study of the lived experiences of distance learners. Chapter five is Axel’s chapter. We attempt to further our understanding of the lifeworlds of distance learners through Axel’s experiences. Chapter six contains an account of Meg’s lifeworld as it relates to distance learning. Our interpretations are shared and summarized in chapter seven. I end with chapter eight, which shares reflections and offers recommendations developed from the study. This study reveals in depth how distance learners experience distance learning. Their narratives are filled with the relevant details about the moments of their everyday distance learning lifeworld and the significance of these moments as they relate to the meaning of their distance learning experiences. By sharing what they discover and what they gain or lose through their participation in the distance learning world, we are able to explicate and to further our understanding of the unintended and essential outcomes of their distance learning experiences. We come to know some of the advantages and disadvantages of the distance learning format, such as quality control, accessibility, and an environment that fosters self- responsibility and independent learning, which in turn promotes the development of increased self-confidence and levels of competence. We learn that learners who are given more control over their learning situation become more self-directed and take ownership of their learning. Although the distance learning format requires learners to deal with content, they face the extra challenge of using advanced learning tools. This study shows that the risk factor and the stimulation that this extra challenge entails should not be viewed as a disadvantage, but rather as an opportunity to enhance personal and professional development. This study also elucidates for us the qualities of limitless lived time and the boundaryless lived space of the distance learning world and how these qualities add to the sense of freedom, hope, opportunity, and empowerment that exist within the distance learning experience. There exists a feeling of expanding and broadening one’s world, and of incorporating lifelong learning as an ongoing reality in one’s life. This study enlightens our understanding of the balance between isolation and connections or relatedness that distance learners struggle with. The narratives speak loudly of the essential issues that relate to the distance learner’s sense of well-being, opportunity for actualization, and ultimately tell us that being a distance learner means living and experiencing a personal transformation.