How security management and investigation professionals use online learning environments

Now in the third year, part-time, toward my PhD at the University of Leicester, I am about to embark on my main study. This is likely a good time to give a brief report on the pilot study that I conducted in the latter part of 2012. The purpose was to study how security management and investigation professionals use online learning environments for their work-based learning and continuing professional development. I was also interested in the digital literacy skills that may be possessed or required by these professionals.

There were two phases in the study: a questionnaire followed by personal interviews. I initially posted a request for study participants in 14 discussion groups. Sixty-seven people in 17 different countries completed the questionnaire, and 35 indicated they would participate in an interview. I conducted 10 interviews by Skype or telephone, as well as 1 by email. These interviews involved participants in Canada, the USA, the UK, Lithuania, and South Africa. The response was encouraging, and it permitted me to gain a view of the field and what might be expected in the main study.

My early findings have been that, beyond face-to-face, using the telephone and email were the most common ways to connect with contacts for learning-related questions, although online discussion groups or forums are a popular way to collaborate for problem-solving and learning. However, many more participants tend to read (consume) the resources than actively engage in discussions on a regular basis. The reasons for not being more involved included concerns with sharing publicly and the need to determine the credibility of information posted.

I am preparing a paper about the pilot study that I hope to present in July in Berlin. This report will provide more analysis of the findings. The main study will include observations of online learning activities along with interviews. I hope to complete the thesis by December 2014.

A.E. (Tony) Ratcliffe
PhD Student, Institute of Learning Innovation
University of Leicester

Confessions of a PhD Student (4): “I did my pilot study…

…‘without knowing what I was doing’.”


One of the most difficult things when doing a PhD is defining the research questions. When I started my program, I had a good general idea of what I wanted to study. Narrowing that down to something researchable that can provide a significant contribution to the academic community has been a challenge.

I read and read and read. I identified gaps mentioned in the literature, and I continuously questioned myself: Are those gaps worth of a PhD research? I have lots of questions and few answers.

Eventually, one my supervisors suggested: Stop reading, go to the field, get your hands dirty and do your pilot study. And I did. I had read a lot, so I knew the main authors, the main theories (or so I thought).

I will be honest with you: I was not really sure of what I was doing. I just did it.

I was like a little bird, pushed by mamma bird out of the nest, hoping to fly and not to fall hard to the ground and die.

Fortunately, I was ready to fly.

Well, I had a couple of issues. I started with one idea. I had a plan for that idea. As I was going along, I had to reformulate my idea and my plan. Half-way during my data collection, I discovered a framework I liked, one that I consider worth of putting to test. To incorporate it, I modified my instruments. I was using surveys and interviews. It was too late to change the first, but I could include a couple of relevant questions in the latter.

It was not too bad… Ok, it would have been better if I had had a clear theoretical stance before I started the study. But honestly, it turned out quite well. I finished it already. I prepared a report of results for the participating organization. I found some valuable information, and I improved the research questions of my main study.

I did my pilot study without knowing what I was doing, but I ended up doing it well.

Sometimes, when you are unsure of your steps, you just have to keep going forward, jump out of the nest, do your pilot study and hope to fly. If birds can do it, we can do it too.

– Brenda Padilla

%d bloggers like this: