Designing online education for work based learners
: refining bite sized learning

  • Colin Gray

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Online learning is increasingly prevalent in education and one area which stands to benefit from this approach is work based learning. This area is characterised by time-poor students and a requirement for flexibility in time and location. Online learning could be considered a solution to these issues, providing greater flexibility than campus based offerings, but it is not a panacea. Online learning suffers from a range of issues, particularly in retention, generally seeing attrition rates between 10% and 20% higher than traditional education.
This research investigates an emerging method for delivering online education to work based learners and how it compares to traditional methods with respect to engagement. The method is named bite sized learning, and the core principle is that lessons are delivered in very short, bite sized chunks. These chunks are delivered on a daily basis, comprised of content, guidance and practical tasks. Each chunk also includes a requirement for social interaction with a learning peer group.
This work takes an action research approach, combined with grounded theory and mixed methods. The author proposes the use of a methodology "stack", utilising each of these approaches, which will be shown to enable rigorous evaluation and development of an emerging educational method. The mixed methods employed comprise learning analytics and qualitative course evaluation survey data.
To begin the work, a series of identical bite sized courses are quantitatively analysed in order to propose a reliable measure of engagement for bite sized learning. This concludes that a measure of daily participants produces the most effective results.
Using the methodology "stack," the body of this research takes a 3 stage practice-based approach. A set of live bite sized learning courses are studied, via the "stack", producing an evaluation, an experiment and a resulting theory for bite sized learning. The evaluation reveals current patterns of engagement within bite sized learning, and enables the development of an early theory. The results of this inform the development of an experiment, intended to test the effect of the daily format versus a simpler form of bite sized learning, delivering all content at the beginning. These experimental results, allied with further qualitative data, allow further development and refinement of a bite sized learning theory.
It is discovered that bite sized learning does offer a number of unique advantages to work based learners when compared to traditional methods. It does also, however, come with difficulties. The advantages include increased participation, as well as an increase in discipline and priority around online learning. The difficulties centre around participation in social tasks and on daily participation. Both reduce flexibility, but hold the advantages of increased priority and increased learning for some.
The research concludes with the presentation of a three path theoretical model of bite sized learning, each level suited to a particular context and course aim. The paths develop in sequence, and educators may choose the path which best suits their own teaching environment. The resulting paths force a choice between emphasising flexibility, involvement or learning, and advice is offered on how to choose the ideal model based on the learners involved.
Date of AwardOct 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Abertay University
SupervisorSuzanne Prior (Supervisor), Gregor White (Supervisor) & Louis Natanson (Supervisor)


  • Work based learners
  • Bite sized learning
  • Online education

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