University of Oulu

Understanding informal online learning and identity through young adults’ narratives

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Author: Hall, Joshua1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Education, Educational Sciences
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Oulu : J. Hall, 2017
Publish Date: 2017-01-14
Thesis type: Master's thesis
Tutor: Jokikokko, Katri
Reviewer: Jokikokko, Katri
Järvelä, Maria-Liisa
This thesis attempts to get a closer look at informal online learning and identity through the narratives of young adults. The primary research question is this: how and what do young people — the so-called “digital natives” of 2016 — tell about their experiences with informal online learning and related identities? From a theoretical perspective, this work falls under the social constructivist paradigm in so far as it tries to understand and analyze highly individual, socially constructed knowledge. This paradigm is discussed in the thesis’s theory chapter, along with the two central topics of the thesis: informal online learning and identity. Four participants from the USA of roughly university age were interviewed for this project. Narrative data from the interviews was analyzed using a two-step approach. In the first step, the researcher reconstructs the participants’ key narratives in orientation to the research question. In the second step, thematic coding was used to isolate parts of the narratives that served to directly answer the research question. The fifth and sixth chapters present the findings of this analysis, i.e. the individual narratives of the research participants and thematic analytical discussion (thereby mirroring the two-step analytical method). The research found that the participants had conflicted views of themselves as “learners” when discussing their online identities. They nonetheless used informal online learning tools to access the things that mattered most to them, both in supplement to and outside of formal learning contexts. The participants also tended to value hands-on and independent learning, which they found more applicable to informal online learning than to offline formal learning. Further considerations are discussed in the seventh chapter, including trustworthiness and ethics in this research. Concluding remarks are offered in the final chapter, including suggestions for further research. In particular, further research needs to get at informal online learning’s relation to learning identity and critical media literacy. This thesis also highlights the need for qualitative research that takes the voices and experiences of students into account.
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