Problem Statement:Work-based learning programmes have become an increasingly popular way of fulfilling the desire for life-long learning; multi-dimensional work-based learning modes have recently played a large role in both personal and institutional development. The peculiarity of this innovative way of learning derives from the fact that learning is gained from work experience. Work-based learning programmes were pioneered in undergraduate, graduate and doctorate programmes. This learning process represents a unique approach to knowledge and has created a new paradigm in educational thinking, with a specific epistemology and methodology. The learning cycle relies on active learning through work experience, with an emphasis on project management capability. In addition, it provides an opportunity for researchers to engage in on-line discussions with tutors and fellow students. In this respect, the role of the online peer support process in work-based research projects is worth investigating.
Purpose of the Study: This study aimed to determine how the use of online communication tools for peer support within the work-based learning paradigm impacts learners’ self-development. Specifically, it focused on whether peer-supporter-ed and -supportive roles enacted via on-line tools in work-based learning programmes enhanced learners’ collaboration and research management skills. It also examined whether online communication facilitated critical thinking.
Methods: The research conducted was qualitative in nature, with a case study approach. In-depth interviews, self-reports and researcher observations were the data collection techniques used to explore the experiences of participants in relation to the research focus. Triangulation was employed with multiple data analysis.
Findings and Results:This study unveiled the benefits of peer supporter-ed friendships within work-based learning programmes to the construction of work-based projects grounded in bounded rationality. It should be highlighted that online communication tools are extremely useful to candidates who are studying and communicating from a distance. Significantly, the findings demonstrated that being engaged in different research contexts is not a barrier to learning; online communication tools provide users with the opportunity to give mutual support. The research presented here highlighted the ways in which online communication tools facilitate critical thinking, collaboration and research management skills.
Conclusions and Recommendations: It is proposed that a model for work-based learning that explores candidates’ roles as peer supporters be developed, so as to further the building of critical friendships through online communication. It is also urged that collaborative effort be encouraged as a means of achieving plausible outcomes within the work-based research process.
Keywords: Collaboration, online communication, peer support, work-based learning