Gibbs, Graham R., Clarke, Dawn, Teal, Andrew and Lewins, Ann (2009) E-learning as apprenticeship for large numbers. In: C-SAP E-learning conference, 16th January 2009, London. (Unpublished)

In a recent paper, Martyn Hammersley has identified a variety of approaches to the teaching and learning of qualitative research methods (QRM).
1. The craft approach. Typically, learning by a relatively small number of postgraduate students ‘at Nellie’s knee’ by a form of apprenticeship with the senior researcher with whom they were working
2. The professional approach (especially a concern to do a professional job and to meet ethics guidelines)
3. Bicoleur – the post-modern/constructivist approach. Use any methods that are to hand and learn by doing such approaches.

All three, he suggests, reject the procedural approach to learning QRM, i.e. learning through set of explicit stages and activities, even though this is the approach that both government and students want.

To some degree these are responses to a crisis in the teaching of QRM. In the past, insofar as it was taught at all, QRM was approached using the craft/apprenticeship model. However, now, QRM are taught at undergraduate level and to very large numbers of students. So that approach is no longer tenable. At the same time, there has been a revolution in QRM which has introduced a large range of approaches and techniques and undermined any consensus about what are the key methods that should be learned.

In response to these changes in the last 20 years there has been an enormous growth in the number of texts and guides written about QRM; initially with a focus on data collection but now complemented by a number of volumes on qualitative analysis. However, there is still an unaddressed need. Many of those learning about analysis still desire to see the fine detail of how researchers undertake the analysis and make decisions about coding etc. In some ways what they want is the kind of detailed advice and information learners in the past would have got as apprentices to their supervisors.

The REQUALLO project (HEA funded) is designed to address this need and to deliver the information created by e-learning Reusable Learning Objects (RLOs). This paper will argue that this approach helps the dilemmas identified by Hammersley in a number of ways.

1. Materials are close to the experience that would be gained from the coaching/apprenticeship approach. Researchers are interviewed and theorists speak for themselves.
2. It promotes comparison – case to case, subject by subject, allowing students to see how explanations are created.
3. Includes procedures – steps to go through – but these are moderated by examples of how, in reality, researchers adjust/modify/use serendipity/creativity to modify what they actually do.
4. Each RLO contains some assessments/tests/exercises. This provides the kind of frequent feedback students would have got in the apprenticeship approach and it can be repeated as many times as the student wants. It is an example of learning by doing rather than by definition.
5. The granularity of the RLOs mean they are flexible and can be used in different philosophical/methodological contexts.

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