Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods

Learning Research Methods: How Personalised Should We Be?

Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods

Learning Research Methods: How Personalised Should We Be?

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

This paper discusses the overlap of two subjects which are directly relevant to the teaching of research methods:

* The need for university students, on taught degree courses where research is not a major area of focus, to learn a certain amount about how to conduct research - usually as a preparation for a significant individual and independent project that they must pursue as part of their studies

* The emergence of personalisation as a current trend in learning and the possibility to apply this in different directions.

It reviews different approaches to personalisation and relates these to the teaching of research methods. Part of the background is that the research carried out by students within a taught degree is an individual activity and an intrinsic property of such research is that students should have differing individual requirements. In other words students' research work is highly personalised, and an important question is whether their training in research techniques should be personalised to the same extent.

The discussion in the paper is based on the author's personal reflection and experience, predominantly in the context of undergraduate business and management degrees, within which students are required to carry out a single substantial piece of individual research in their final year. This reflection includes some thoughts prompted by the difficulties in applying some approaches to personalisation, which had achieved a measure of success when implemented to support other areas of learning, to the teaching and learning if research methods.

2. Concepts around personalised learning

This section introduces some of the concepts underpinning the potential for personalisation of learning in higher education. It discusses the context, and sets the scene for a further discussion of why personalisation is particularly relevant in the teaching of research skills within a university course. After a discussion of why personalisation is relevant, there follow some observations on the implications for learning design, and then the potential use of technology to achieve more personalised instruction.

Personalisation of products and services has become a familiar concept in many areas of life. The notion of the 'long tail' (Anderson, 2008) is built around the ability, given the technology that is now available, for businesses to offer a very wide range of products. Any products based around information technology will typically include a very large range of options and customisable features. Mass customisation (Coletti and Aichner, 2011) emerges from the development of manufacturing processes that allow the economies of scale historically associated with large-scale production, but also permit a wide variety of individualised products to be offered. Apple, with the iPhone, have adopted the contrasting approach of providing a highly standardised product which is manufactured and sold in large numbers, but in creating an ecosystem where suppliers of applications and accessories are allow their customers to build something which is highly personalised (Nuttall, 2011).

Personalisation is one of the promises of the recent generation of MOOCs (massive open online courses). One reading of the design philosophy behind MOOCs would be the application of mass customisation principles to adult learning. Typically the benefits of large-scale learning in a MOOC are sold to students in terms of access to prestigious institutions and highly regarded faculty. Nevertheless Anderson and McGreal (2012) position new models, notably the availability of open educational resources, as an example of the emergence of a low cost 'no-frills' approach to provision of higher education. George Siemens, one of the originators of the term MOOC, ascribes the need for new approaches to learning, to the complexity of the issues with which students need to grapple (Kolowich, 2014).

MOOCs are open to criticism, notably for the fact that computer-mediated individual support is no substitute for the quality of mentoring that direct contact with an expert can provide (Palaimo, 2013). …

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