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The Learning Stories Project

AECT 2000, Denver, Colorado


The Learning Development Institute presented results of research into personal learning stories at the International Conference of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), Denver, CO, October 25-28, 2000. Users of this site are referred to the Meaning of Learning (MOL) section of this site (see 'activities') for further detail. Sample learning stories are also available on this site.
Following are links to:
Session description:
Contributing authors: Yusra Laila Visser, Florida State University & Jan Visser, Learning Development Institute
Qualitative research has been conducted to elucidate a broader range of meanings of the concept of 'learning' than those that orient the mainstream research and practice in our field. This session reports on the results of this research. Recommendations for further research and the instructional design practice, based on an analysis of the research results, will be discussed.
PROBLEM STATEMENT: Learning is a poorly defined concept. For many people its meaning is biased towards what happens in the traditional schooling and training contexts. However, learning, as an essential dimension of the human existence, pervades life in all its different aspects. It engages people, as well as the social entities they constitute, throughout the lifespan. The strong focus on learning as a consequence of instruction in existing discourse has created a mindset among researchers and practitioners that looks upon the creation of the conditions of learning mostly in terms of instructional parameters. As a result, there is a deficit in learning research in areas that are not covered by or connected to instructional practice. Consequently, insufficient attention is paid to creating the conditions that foster and support learning in non-instructional settings. There is, therefore, an urgent need to explore the meaning of learning in its broadest sense. The research reported on in this session aims at contributing to broadening our vision of learning so as to refocus current research and inspire the opening of new fields.
RESEARCH FOCUS AND METHOD: In response to the above problem, a systematic inquiry is underway to determine what people perceive to be their most meaningful learning experiences and what conditions are seen to have enabled them.
In the framework of the research reported on in the proposed session, 50 narratives are being collected of people whose ages range from seven years old to 65 years old. The authors of the narratives are diverse in terms of ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic background, as well as in terms of the degree and nature of their involvement in formal education. Each of the collected narratives responds to the following three concerns formulated by the researchers:
* Elucidation of the participant's most meaningful learning experience.
* Clarification about why these learning experiences are considered meaningful.
* Determination of the key conditions that allowed these learning experiences to occur.
Once the narratives have been collected, the information generated in them is coded and analyzed.
The data generated in the learning stories is analyzed in terms of the three dimensions of each learning story, i.e., the description of the actual meaningful learning experience, each author's rationale for describing the learning experience as his/her most meaningful one, and the description of the conditions enabling the learning experience.
In analyzing the data, the following procedure is employed, based on research design specifications for the analysis of unstructured data (Sapsford & Jupp, 1996):
1. A thorough analysis is conducted of a sample of the learning stories collected, to identify aspects of the data that may be significant. Subsequently categories and subcategories are identified that are relevant to the data in the sample with respect to the chosen the research focus.
2. Segments of data from different parts of the selected sample data are gathered and assigned to the categories.
3. All items of data assigned to the same category are analyzed through the "constant comparative method" (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), to clarify what the categories that have emerged mean, as well as to identify sub-categories and relations among categories. In the process, these categories may be developed further, and some data segments may be reassigned to new categories.
4. The data items gathered are analyzed once more, to determine whether any data segments previously identified as irrelevant have been overlooked.
5. Additional data samples are analyzed and coded using the approach described in previous steps, until the complete data set has been categorized and analyzed.
The approach for data analysis described above is iterative in nature, generating categories and interpretations of the data in terms of these categories (Sapsford & Jupp, 1996).
RESULTS: The research reported on in the proposed presentation is ongoing at this time and will be complete by the time the Denver conference takes place. It is expected that the findings from this study will provide insight into the broad meaning of learning as related to the most meaningful learning experiences of people across demographic attributes, as well as elucidate the types of conditions facilitating such meaningful learning. The findings from this study are thus expected to serve as a rich source of information for redefining the concept of learning, and thus to expand the range of instructional and non-instructional parameters to be taken into account in the design of learning environments, the development of learning practice, the decision making regarding what to research and what not to research, and policy making.

Slide presentation
A short series of slides was used as an introduction to the discussion of the research results, its methodological underpinnings, and its significance for further research and the practice of instructional design.
Further research in this area is ongoing and foreseen to be presented at the Annual Meeting of the AERA in New Orleans, April 1-5, 2000, under the title "Second Order Learning Stories."