Pathways to Competence and Participation in the Digital World.
PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.
This research used grounded theory practice to investigate how and why adults approach
their own learning for basic digital literacy. Specifically, the questions of how we should
characterise learning for digital literacy and what are the key influences on the learning decisions
of adults undertaking a basic computer course were addressed. The actions and experiences of
students of Know IT, a blended learning course intended to enhance basic computer skills in the
Irish workplace, provided a context for this inquiry. New insights derived from this research are
intended to inform and improve future pedagogic design for technology enhanced learning in
People with low levels of basic skills are seriously disadvantaged in relation to their
ability to adapt to changes in the workplace and to participate in further training. This is
particularly true for people in need of basic computer skills and digital literacy. Members of this
group are often experienced in other areas of work and may feel undermined by the introduction
of new technology. Digital literacy is also becoming increasingly important for participation in
many social and economic activities of everyday life. Individuals who are excluded from such
participation feel left behind and alienated and desire to be competent.
The Know IT pilot project was a workplace learning intervention designed to improve
basic everyday computer skills in adults. It used a blended learning approach and consisted of a
self-instructional CD ROM, a learner’s journal and optional attendance at tutorials for direct
instruction. Data from a specifically administered self-response survey as well as other sources
was used to paint a broad profile of the characteristics of the student group.
Qualitative interviews were conducted with ten course participants and grounded theory
practice was used to construct an independent analysis of their conceptions of learning
influences, motive and actions. Four individual stories are also presented to provide insights
from a life narrative perspective. Three significant concepts emerged from independent analysis
as the Digital World, Competence Desire and Learning Identity. The interplay between these
three constructs provides the impetus and informs individual strategies for learning. Further
conceptualisation leads to learning described as pathways to competence and participation in the
The insights from this research suggest that e-learning designers should use strategies that
focus on harnessing positive conceptions of the digital world, nurturing desire for specific rather
than general competence and supporting the establishment of a positive learner self-concept.
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