Grounded Theory as an approach to studying students' uses of learning management systems
This paper presents the first phase of a qualitative study of students' use of a Learning Management System (LMS). A group of students at Kingston University with experience of two different systems were afforded the opportunity to study the relationship between the interface to an LMS and the usability of the system.
A 'Grounded Theory' methodology (Glaser and Strauss, 1967) was selected to model the students' framework, as independently as possible from the views of other stakeholders in the LMS. The approach still offered the potential for generalization despite working with a small group of students. In Grounded Theory, data collection and theory-building drive each other reciprocally until a stable 'theory' is reached.
In an ideal world this research would be reported at the end of the whole process but it is considered that there is more value in producing less definitive results at this stage rather than a complete theory in one year's time (Oliver, 2000). Even at this stage of the research, it is clear that the students' conception of an LMS is categorically different from that held by the other stakeholders responsible for implementing the system. Identification of these differences and integration of some findings into future developments are critical even if, in the view of the researchers, further development of the 'theory' is required
The findings from this phase validate the use of a grounded approach. They suggest that systemic issues regarding the integration of educational activities with other aspects of everyday life are fundamentally more important than issues in interface design. The students make effective use of remote access facilities but only where this offers a clear comparison with activities that already form part of studying at university. Such comparisons are pragmatic and are seldom defined in terms of 'educational' benefit.