Understanding the Student Experience: Doing Things Better in Studying First-Time Distance Learners

Mark Brown
Dublin City University, Ireland

Helen Hughes
University of Bristol, United Kingdom


This paper is set against the backdrop of the problem of retention andcompletion and reports on the experiences of 20 first-time distance learnersusing a novel video diary approach to data collection. Video diary reflectionswere submitted by a purposive sample of online/distance learners each weekover a period of up to 16 weeks. Data were analysed using a thematicanalysis method following the general principles of a phenomenologicalapproach. Many of the key decision points in undertaking this type of researchare described along with some of the methodological challenges andlimitations. The lived experiences of first-time distance students were acomplex phenomenon. The paper reports some of the main findings andreflects on different ways of studying the student experience along with theimperative of doing things better for this group of learners.

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