Research: Exploring staff barriers and motivators in e-learning engagement

Picture of an engagement ceremony in Mali

the engagement by Arriving at the horizon

Sheffield Hallam has a strong history of research into the student experience of e-learning.  Our student research has given us a strong foundation for our approach to e-learning from the initial implementation through the last nine years of development.

However, this past year we chose to conduct research into the staff experience of e-learning, so we can better understand the perspective of those that are integrating e-learning into the curriculum.  Why have some staff chosen to engage with e-learning at a high level while others have been reluctant to adopt even basic e-learning provision into their modules?

As part of my masters dissertation research project, academic staff with different levels of e-learning experience from across the university were interviewed to identify barriers and enablers to their engagement with e-learning.  One common barrier that arose was a lack of knowledge of both what is possible and what is good practice in different approaches.  To help with this, we will be trying new approaches to capturing and sharing good practice that exists at parts of the university.

Staff emotions, attitudes, and perceptions around e-learning were also a frequent barrier or motivator to engagement.  Where staff felt confident enough to try and were well-supported, all were able to develop the necessary skills.  However, some staff felt afraid or embarrassed about their lack of existing skills, which created a barrier to engagement.  Our e-learning assistants and advisers are extremely patient and do not expect a high level of existing skills.  If you are worried then please don’t be, as we will be patient and helpful, and you can develop your skills slowly over time.

Other staff commented that they were surprised at the high level of technology in teaching when they started at the university.  We should try to clarify to incoming staff the type of university we want to be, and the level of technology use that entails to ensure incoming staff philosophies match the university’s goals.  We must also support incoming staff with developing the necessary skills to accomplish those goals through induction activities in their first year.

Local cultures also proved to be quite important for enabling engagement with e-learning.  Where local leadership supported and encouraged e-learning, it became an expected part of the culture and way teaching was done.  Where local leadership did not engage themselves with e-learning, this had a detrimental effect on engagement in the group as a whole.  Having colleagues that shared their practice and explained the benefits they had accomplished with e-learning made a difference as well, as other staff were more likely to follow suit or consider something they could do for their own practice.

You can read the full dissertation here if you are a Sheffield Hallam staff member (external publication coming later). We’re interested in hearing your thoughts on the research and recommendations.  Are there any other actions we should take to improve your experience of e-learning as a staff member?  Please leave a comment or contact me, Brian Irwin, if you would like to contribute to the discussion.

Do you have research related to e-learning you’ve done at Sheffield Hallam that you’d like showcased on the blog?  Please send an email to Brian Irwin or leave a comment on the blog.

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  1. Pingback: Developing a local culture of e-learning | e-learning at Sheffield Hallam

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