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Learning through a Foundation Degree

Dr. Claire Taylor

PhD thesis (University of Nottingham)

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This research explores the learning experiences of three mature students studying for a Foundation Degree – a two-year qualification, introduced in England and Wales in 2001, that uniquely spans the academic-vocational nexus within higher education. Data collected through interviews and journal entries were used to construct accounts of each of the students’ learning experiences, forming a longitudinal case study that spanned two years. This material is used in three ways to give insight into learning through a Foundation Degree. Firstly, the accounts stand by themselves as detailed descriptions of what it is like to learn through a Foundation Degree. Secondly, the accounts illustrate ways in which particular learning theories and models are helpful to understanding the students’ learning experiences, and also the areas in which some theories and models fall short. Thirdly, a new conceptual model has been developed which identifies six factors that significantly impact upon the Foundation Degree learner’s experience. Each of these factors has the potential to influence learning positively or negatively, depending on where it lies upon a continuum that polarises learning inhibitors and enablers. This model is used to scrutinise Foundation Degree teaching and learning practice, using the accounts as reference points, and more effective approaches to Foundation Degree delivery have been suggested.

The story of one of the students, Sam, illustrates two factors from the conceptual model directly related to the principles embedded within Learning Without Limits (tutor beliefs regarding ability and the tutor's role) and also draws upon discussion within the thesis regarding the legitimacy of work-based learning as a valid pedagogy.

Sam left school at age 16 and joined HE some 12 years later as a mature student studying for an education-related Foundation degree. She successfully completed her Foundation degree, an honours ‘top-up’, gained Qualified Teacher Status and is now working as a primary school teacher. Although there are many and varied factors relating to Sam’s success in higher education, the tutor has a crucial role in supporting students such as Sam.  In particular, tutor effectiveness in supporting work-based students can be scrutinised in three areas: the tutor’s view of the legitimacy of work-based learning as a valid pedagogy; the tutor’s beliefs regarding ability; and the tutor’s perception of their role on a continuum from knowledge transmission to learning facilitation. Sam’s story was the subject of a presentation at the Society for Research into Higher Education in 2009, reference as follows:

Taylor, C. (2009) How tutor views, beliefs and perceptions contribute to successful learning for work-based students in higher education, paper presented at Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) Annual Conference 2009, Newport, Wales.