Stephen Powell, Ian Tindal, and Richard Millwood (2008)
Personalized Learning and the Ultraversity Experience
Interactive Learning Environments, 16(1):63-81.
This paper describes a model of personalised work-integrated learning that is collaborative in nature, uses emerging Internet technologies and is accessed fully online. The Ultraversity project was set up by Ultralab at Anglia Ruskin University to develop a fully online, three-year duration, undergraduate degree programme with an emphasis on action inquiry in the workplace. The course design aimed to provide a highly personalised and collaborative experience. Students engage in the processes of inquiry together as a cohort, making it possible to collaborate and support each other in the online communities. The focus of this paper is on three aspects of personalisation: students’ use of technological infrastructure to develop online communities; integration of study in the workplace; and the work-study-life balance. Students were surveyed and interviewed after completion through questionnaire, telephone and face-to-face meeting. Transcripts were analysed using interpretive phenomenological analysis. This grounded approach provided evidence of impact of the design on personalised learning. The course design made the assumption that blended learning was not necessary to ensure a rich learning experience and would be a barrier to those who could not attend, and this decision is vindicated by the accounts of participants. It was also confirmed that facilitated online communities can be used to support deep learning that is focussed on action inquiry in diverse and individual workplaces. The course was designed to impact on both the work practices of the individual and the wider institution. Participants reported this as a strength. Overall, the evidence presented shows that a course design that emphasises a high degree of trust in students' ability to self-manage learning can lead to a challenging, personalised and rewarding online student experience. Students demonstrated high levels of competence in managing work study and life. This assertion is further borne out by the high degree of success achieved in terms of outcomes, judged by the degree results obtained by the cohort studied.