What’s at the top of the pyramid?

I’ve been troubled for while about what’s at the top of the pyramid model. I explore this in a forthcoming book chapter:

Sharpe, R. (forthcoming 2014) What does it take to learn in next generation learning spaces? In Fraser, K. (ed) The future of teaching and learning in technology enabled, collaborative spaces, Emerald.

This chapter is driven by the  question ‘What can learner experience research tell us about the attributes of successful online learners?’. It reports on a literature review which I hope will inform models of digital literacy – many of which are already showing signs of moving beyond specification of skills and competencies. The review draws on qualitative research arising from the field of learners’ experiences of e-learning. Although learner experience research has exposed and given a platform for authentic learners’ voices, it has been criticised for relying on small-scale research, and it has been a challenge to integrate the results from many studies in ways which produce meaningful advice for practitioners. The chapter demonstrates a way of reviewing and compiling current research using a qualitative meta-analysis.

Six attributes are identified and explored:

  • engaged
  • connected
  • confident
  • adaptable
  • intentional
  • self-aware.

Although some of these attributes are applicable to all learning contexts, the attributes of being connected, confident, adaptable and intentional seem to be particularly important in learning in next generation learning spaces. The challenge is to design learning activities which encourage and reward the development of these attributes.

The hope is that this chapter provokes debate on what it now means to be a successful learner in today’s technology rich world.


Rhona is Head of the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development at Oxford Brookes University. Her interests are around developing and tutoring online courses, developing learners for a digital age, and  pedagogic research. Rhona is one of the co-founders of ELESIG (Evaluation of Learners' Experiences of e-learning Special Interest Group), a Senior Fellow of the Staff and Educational Development Association, a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a National Teaching Fellow. She is Editor of the Brookes eJournal for Learning and Teaching.

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