Learning to Learn

I made a recent post in one of the course forums for the BOE course at Edinburgh Napier University. In it I mentioned the idea of teaching learners how to learn. It may sound like a simple idea but many courses do not consider the simple study skills that may be required to study at a higher level. I’ve often sat at my computer and wondered how I should be structuring my work and whether I’ve referenced correctly, used the correct tone, been critical enough … the list goes on.

I believe that if we are to truly support and motivate online and blended learners then we need to show them how to study.

Geoff Petty writes about study skills in the following way;

“These skills are not content, and so often don’t find their way on to the Scheme of Work. Yet they need teaching and they need class time! They are more difficult to learn than the content usually. So don’t just teach the easy bits (content), and leave the hard stuff (skills) for the students to work out for themselves!” (Petty, 2017)

Whilst he is writing about school and college-level learners do we not think that university and post-graduate learners require the same support?

Liverpool University have excellent practice in this area. Each online CPD learner is given access to a series of lectures demonstrating the skills needed to succeed at Masters level. This simple level of support allowed learners to easily access Electronic Performance Support Systems (in the form of on-demand lectures) as they studied.

This idea of learning how to learn is also supported by Stella Collins.

Collins argues that;

“Sharing what works with your learners helps them to be more effective and to learn better for themselves. Explaining to them that they need to review what they’ve learned, that sleeping on it will help, and giving them responsibility for learning will do more for your learners than any number of wonderfully prepared slides, detailed handouts or fantastic exercises.” (Collins, 2016)

This leads to another question, who is ultimately responsible for learning, the tutor or the learner?

Based on the two readings above I believe that the Blended and Online tutor starts off as being responsible for learning but, by the midway-point in a course, learners should become more autonomous as they have the skills to learn for themselves.

My personal experience in studying at Masters level for the first time has further instilled this belief in me. After initial struggles in Module 1 I now feel like a stronger and more independent learner in approaching Module 2, I hope this continues throughout the course!


Collins, Stella; 2016; “Neuroscience for Learning and Development”; Kogan Page

Petty, Geoff; 2017; Site last accessed 05/03/2017; http://geoffpetty.com/for-teachers/skills/


Motivation and Behaviour

I am intrigued by the adoption of technology for learning. In my reading I came across the Technology Adoption Model (TAM) as proposed by Davis in 1989. Park explains Davis’ model as below;

“Two cognitive beliefs are posited by TAM: perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use. According to TAM, one’s actual use of a technology system is influenced directly or indirectly by the user’s behavioural intentions, attitude, perceived usefulness of the system, and perceived ease of the system.” (Park, 2009)

In motivating learners it is vital that we appease at least two of these areas of TAM with system design, namely perceived usefulness of the system and perceived ease of the system. If we can make a course site easy to use, relevant and useful to our learners we can then motivate them to adopt the system, from a technical standpoint at least. This can be done through user experience design and ensuring that items are on-hand for learners.

More importantly we need to appeal to the behavioural intentions and attitudes of our learners to encourage their adoption of blended and online learning.  Simpson (2013)  argues that “distance learners are particularly vulnerable to loss of motivation.” . Simpson also proposes that we can motivate learners by ensuring that they can say “I’m convinced this particular learning is exactly right for me” (Simpson, 2013, pp.78).

In my work I deal with compliance training for a business. The big question comes in “How can we make learners want to take compliance training?” How can we motivate them to engage with elearning that they have to do from a legal and ethical point of view? How can we get them to say that the training is right for them?

I have explained this before in other forums, but I believe that the use of “Authentic activities” is key to motivating learners to engage with elearning. Oliver et al’s (2006, pp.504) definition that “Authentic activities have real-world relevance” provides an excellent basis for motivating learners to see the relevance of their learning thus helping to shape their behavioural intentions and attitude.

Our adapted framework allows us to address some of the questions that unmotivated learners may have. I have adapted this from a JISC framework (2012);

  1. We answer the question “Why do I need to learn this?” – the most common question asked by our learners.
  2. We answer the question “What do I need to know?” – this is where we deliver any essential theory within the pharmacy context.
  3. We answer the question “How do I use this in my job?” – here we focus on the patients that may come into the pharmacy and how to offer advice.
  4. Practice – we provide a pharmacy-based scenario to allow the staff to try different responses on a patient and gauge reaction, this is usually done through an articulate storyline simulation. We have also performed face-to-face role-play activities with newly qualified pharmacists.
  5. Closure and Evaluation – The practice is reviewed and fed-back upon. This can then be written up as CPD or applied in the pharmacy.

This five-stage system allows us to address the burning questions that learners may have early on in a training context. We can then focus on embedding and applying the skills required for the job.

Whilst not entirely perfect (we still need to do some work to increase participation and compliance) I believe that this is a good launching point for discussions about motivating our learners to address the two more difficult aspects of TAM within an elearning context.


JISC, (2016), “Constructing the Learning Framework”, JISC Netskills

Oliver, R., Herrington, J., Thomas, R., (2006) “Chapter 36: Creating authentic learning environments through blended learning approaches” from Bonk, C., Graham, C, The handbook of blended learning: global perspectives, local designs pp.502-515, San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Park, S. Y. (2009). An Analysis of the Technology Acceptance Model in Understanding University Students’ Behavioral Intention to Use e-Learning. Educational Technology & Society, 12 (3), 150–162.

Simpson, Ormond. 2013., Supporting Students for Success in Online and Distance Education. [online]. Routledge. Available from:<http://www.myilibrary.com?ID=428548> 23 February 2017


Supporting Learners

Supporting learners through blended and online courses can often be a challenging prospect. Much of the time the tutor is removed from the student b a great distance. This does not mean that the tutor cannot be supportive or offer a reasonable degree of technical and educational guidance to learners. I would like to take a business-driven model and apply it to learner support.

Within business support systems and ‘Electronic Performance Support Systems’ Teri Lynn Cardona identifies that there are three ways to support workers with their performance.

  • Intrinsic support – support that is integrated into the work environment or software (buttons in an interface like ‘continue’ and ‘submit’).
  • Extrinsic support – support that is requested, but still within the working environment (think of the Microsoft ‘Paperclip’ assistant).
  • External Support – support that is external to the working environment (phoning a helpdesk, emailing for support).

(Cardona, 2004)

These three levels of support don’t just apply to a worker or manager completing a job, but can apply to a student navigating an online course.

One way of familiarising learners with the environment they are working in through both intrinsic and extrinsic means is to set an opening task for the learners. McCabe and Gonzalez-Flores offer this advice to allow learners to get used to the learning environment, in both an intrinsic and extrinsic way, by allowing time for learners to experiment with the tools available; “Gauge the students’ technical performance and help them feel comfortable and confident navigating the online environment before grades become and issue” (McCabe and Gonzalez-Flores, 2017, p.128-129). Furthermore they offer advice for external support if learners are struggling with technology; “Remember that if students have problems understanding how to work in the LMS, you can reach them through more familiar forms of communication – telephone or email.” (McCabe and Gonzalez-Flores, 2017, p. 129).

Intrinsic, extrinsic and external support are clearly defined ways in which we can support learners through what may be an initially intimidating and difficult process of learning in blended and online programmes. Given time to experiment most learners will experiment and be able to find their way through the course. Others may require a little more help through external methods.


Cordana. T. L. 2004 “Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSSs). http://debwagner.info/hpttoolkit/epss_hpt.htm; last accessed 16/02/2017

McCabe. M. F. and Gonzalez-Flores. P. 2017; “Essentials of Online Teaching: A Standards-Based Guide”; Routledge

Why Blog?

In choosing to blog for the second module of the Edinburgh Napier MSc in Blended and Online Learning I hope to share some of the methods and ideas, in respect to supporting learners, that I incorporate into my work within a Learning and Development department in a well-known pharmacy chain.

Blogging allows me to reflect on my daily practice and provide examples of where theory is applied to different situations that I find myself in. Indeed, reflection is the key reason why I chose to blog. This is supported by Vai and Sosulski who say the following about online journaling activities (like blogging) “The goal in this case is that the students develop the habit of reflecting on their work” (Vai and Sosulski, 2016) .

Stella Collins argues that reviewing and reflecting are best when we “Exploit social connections and involve other stakeholders” (Collins, 2016). With blogging being a social tool, I would encourage colleagues and fellow learners to contribute and comment on my blog posts so that we can learn together in a reflective manner.

I look forward to engaging with you all.



Collins, Stella; “Neuroscience for Learning and Development”, 2016, Kogan Page

Vai, Marjorie and Sosulski, Kristen; “Essentials of Online Course Design: A Standards-Based Guide”, 2016, Routledge






BOE Blog for MSc


This is a space for me to blog about my experiences during Module 2 of the Edinburgh Napier University MSc in Blended and Online Education (BOE). In addition to discussing this I will share some of my experiences of design and delivery of Blended and “eLearning” solutions.

Anything to do with my Masters Degree will be under the “BOE” category of this site. I will try to keep the content as organised as possible for ease of access!

The picture that I have tagged in this post? The University of Liverpool, a place for which I am grateful for inspiring me on this route in my education.