Hirst, Beverley (2014) A socio-cultural study of the role of relationships in learning in higher education. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This research takes a socio-cultural view of learning, which foregrounds the role of relationship. It argues that the ways in which learning is investigated in the extant literature mean that the actual processes underpinning learning and the role that relationships play in this are left unspecified. This means that the role of relationships in learning is under theorised in the learning literature in general and in the H.E. literature in particular, due to a discourse around independent learning which prevails in this setting. It sets out to plug this gap.

Taking an ethnographic approach this research used observational data, interviews, conversations and document analysis in order to study the role of relationships in learning in H.E. The work of Vygotsky, Lave and Wenger and Bronfenbrenner was drawn upon in order to analyse the everyday quotidian and implicit practices and processes underpinning learning in H.E. and the role that relationships play in this, using Thematic Analysis. A theoretical framework was thereby constructed to analyse these practices and processes and provide understanding of the role of relationships in learning in H.E. Findings pointed to students’ need for relationship with both their lecturers and peers as an ontological imperative. Furthermore, that relationship formation and maintenance can be impacted upon by the ways in which individual identities interact. The importance of intersubjectivity for learning and also how contextual processes are able to influence the formation and maintenance of relationships were also highlighted. Findings allowed reflection upon emergent issues and current H.E. practice.

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