Personal epistemologies & student engagement in Active Blended Learning [ABL]

  • Elizabeth Palmer (Author)
  • Sylvie Lomer (Author)
  • Ivelina Bashliyska (Author)

Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsOral presentationResearch


The paradigm of learner-centered education is now well established at the heart of educational design and practice in British higher education (Reigeluth et al., 2016). This approach characterises the learner as ‘active’ in the learning process, as self-regulating and as their own teacher and teacher of others, for example through peer instruction. Similarly, ‘active learning’ positions the student as active agent, not passive recipient (Reece & Walker, 2007, p.3), engaged in the construction of knowledge within individual and social frameworks. With the increase in educational technology, higher education is also incorporating digital, online modes of teaching and learning as a complement to traditional face-to-face modes in blended learning approaches. Blended learning thus seeks to establish a learning community which operates synchronously and asynchronously across both virtual and physical environments (Alammary et al, 2014; Buckley, et al, 2010; Wu, et al., 2010). In principle, ‘blended’ learning encompasses the values of learner-centred and active learning pedagogies. The learner-centred active, blended learning paradigm assumes students are motivated, engaged, capable of independent learning, and agentic. The locus of control has theoretically shifted from tutor to learner, however, in practice, higher education students may have neither compatible epistemological beliefs, nor the requisite capacities or desire to study in this way (Pokorny & Pokorny, 2005; Orton‐Johnson, 2009; Henrie, et al., 2015; Powell et al., 2015). This paper reports on a qualitative research project undertaken at the University of Northampton which is moving towards an entirely Active Blended Learning [ABL] based curriculum. The project originally intended to explore why patterns of student engagement in ABL were variable across the institution. We established focus groups across the institution and to date have over 200 participants in multiple subject areas. Thematic analysis of results indicates that, aside from well-established practical factors such as access, technological proficiency, and communication, underpinning concepts of knowledge, teaching and learning played important roles in engagement. Students protested vociferously about expectations of independent learning, considered online tasks not to be ‘proper learning‘, viewed teachers setting online tasks as lazy, and demonstrated a reified view of knowledge as transferable directly from staff to students. This presentation will problematise these views and examine ways forward for institutions and teaching staff to shift epistemic beliefs and models of teaching and learning, as a fundamental component of pedagogic innovation.
Period5 Sep 20177 Sep 2017
Event title BERA Annual Conference (University of Surrey, 5-7 September 2017)
Event typeConference
LocationSurrey , United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • Personal epistemologies
  • Student engagement
  • Active blended learning
  • HIgher education
  • Learning
  • Academic