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   1   ONLINE LEARNING STRATEGIES TO STUDENTS:  A GROUNDED THEORY STUDY IN HISPANIC UNIVERSITIES WITH DEVELOPED VIRTUAL CAMPUS Maricruz Corrales, PhD  Universidad Estatal a Distancia (UNED)  ABSTRACT This research describes which are, how are defined and which conditions are given in online learning strategies of postgraduate students from Hispanic universities with virtual campus. Grounded theory methodology with its three systematic processes (open coding, axial coding and selective coding) did to emerge one theoretical model to recognize online learning strategies to students. It was done taking postgraduate students and professors from online study plans in Educational Technology or similar fields as information sources into universities with one consolidated online program. Uncertainty, different learning and time managements and; personal, technological and educational challenges give causal, conditional and contextual circumstances that changes educational actions and schemes toward strategies as learning administration, collaborative learning, groups leadership and reflexive thought. Consequences of this could be explained by one literate learning, knowledge construction and socialization, special time management, self-regulation of feelings and actions and learn to learn. Besides the research was follow up as one doctoral dissertation, it contributes to the scarce yet research done into Internet because it was realized through complete online communications or observations and tutoring orientation. Also, for this conference it promotes new perspectives on educational quality about what should be done and how into the online education. KEYWORDS: online education, learning strategies, university education, qualitative methodology, educational quality   2 1. Introduction.  A literature review on online education shows that focus is specially oriented on teachers in order they could explore options to promote and do online education. In this review, only some few works were found out related with the way students learn under the use of different software applications and with their cybermates (Guitert y Giménez, 2000; Salmon, 2000; Whipp y Schweizer, 2001; Bacer, 2002; Lee, 2002; Pallof y Pratt, 2003; Zhu, 2004). But in fact, no one of them describes learning strategies for online students specifically. Then, students are not so considered as main goal population for authors but they are who must learn into one online environment with its particularities. Regarding any educational and virtual environment, all of them are fulfill with new resources, processes and educational competencies (including those derived from the use of technologies) and anyone could ask: how do students learn to be successful in online practice? Will they need to take more than one course to learn in this educational modality? How do they learn in one complete online study plan? What previous learning is worth to confront this educational and virtual reality to assimilate one online education? Will be useful to have already learned learning strategies from face to face educational tradition for being incorporated into one online education? Do they need to be transformed?  Adapt them? Would are there new or specific learning strategies into the online education? What types of learning strategies are being really promoting the online education? This research gives answers and explain which are, how are defined, how are applied and what conditions are given under online learning strategies in postgraduate students of virtual universities in Spanish linguistic communities from one grounded theory (GT) study realized. To develop it, students and tutors of online in-Spanish postgraduate plans were chosen. They should study online in educational technology areas, in universities with one consolidated and independent online program and with one organization for online education with at least five years or more. The research accomplished out a complete systematization of the GT analysis (open, axial and selective coding) as well the elaboration of one conditional and consequences matrix (a comparative and validation analytic resource for the emergent theoretical model of this research and the involved state of the art review on online education). 2. Main concepts related with research topic. The broad diversity on online education into the related literature gives different conceptions and possible applications to conceive this kind of education. For this reason and with the idea to delineate the research subject, some definitions were collected and integrated to clarify what researcher should find out in her study. These were her initial concepts: a) Learning strategy are   “behaviors and thoughts that a learner engages in during learning and that are intended to influence the learner´s encoding process” (Weinstein & Mayer, 1996, pp. 315). The encoding process has four main components: selection  of what is wanted to be learned, acquisition  of this by saving it from working memory into long-term memory to permanent storage, construction  of connections that involves the development of a coherent   3outlined organization or schema and, integration  of the prior knowledge in long-term memory with incoming information. b) Online education   is delivered through the use of telecommunication digital networks and computer applications which are promoting different educational or informational processes. In fact, in this research were just taken into account only distance online education and not blended situations with face to face meetings or activities with some teacher. Also, it was reduced the population to whom were studying in programs in only virtual universities. c) Online course   is designed, organized and offered with one or more computer and telecommunication applications (including Internet) and it has the following characteristics: a) Information and syllabus course access, 24 hours per day of the course term; b) Document management services (to recover and save them) and integrated computer applications to facilitate the course; c) Different types of interaction and educational communication (tutors- students, among peers and with special guests or domain experts) and; d) Formative or summative learning evaluation. The learning is giving into one virtual environment wherein there are students interaction with tutors or content specialists, educational and informative materials, and the promotion of learning activities (Harasim et al.,1998; Duart & Sangrá, 2000; Peters, 2002). An outstanding model of this kind of education is Salmon´s stages and component model (2000) what explains how learning is constructed among all of them. d) GT methodology is a qualitative methodology of inquiry for generating or discovering a theory, an analytical schema or a phenomenon that relates to a particular situation (Creswell, 1998). Online learning does not have enough theory models for understanding it, even less possible online learning strategies. This method would guaranteed to obtain some theory from one multidisciplinary and multi-variable thinking over data and it would give functional and relevant answers for real situations in education; particularly ones for a very qualitative data nature. 3. Methodology. GT does not admit to choose representative samples for inquiry study because to do it is not significant for real context comprehension. At contrary, it needs to find out real “actors”. In this situation: online students as main sources of information, ideas, practices, processes, observations and additional details related with online learning strategies. Neither it matters how many students could be informants, but their conceptual and practical experiences token as a whole are the most important process to understand online learning strategies phenomenon.  Also, for one practical sense and always very related with the research topic, the researcher chose the specific type of students previously described in the introduction section. They were found doing searches in the Internet, first to find out universities with virtual campus with 5 years or long, postgraduates programs in educational tech domains and students within Hispanic cultures. Searching results showed that Universidad Virtual de Quilmes - UVQ (Argentina), Universidad Virtual del Tecnológico de Monterrey - TEC (México) and Universidad Abierta de Cataluña - UOC (España) fulfilled with all expected conditions for this research.   4In these universities, researcher made contact with academic authorities in order to get access at least to one group of students with the mentioned characteristics. In the same way, researcher needed to have access to tutors in charge of those students and to have access to chosen online courses directly. This research began in true after special confirmations from universities were given by authorities and among tutors, students and researcher made feasible a credibility, confidentiality and trustworthiness in this research. On the other hand, four ways of recollecting data were designed to this research; all of them by online procedures. First, one HTML form wherein students could answer questions about their used learning strategies in online education and the option to define at least one specific online learning strategy they used in detail. Second, researcher made in-deep online interviews with each student who had sent a complete form in the research. In the interview, researcher expanded and verified sending strategies, its conditions and particular experiences with online strategies from students. Third, as researcher had authorization to access online courses of these students she did non-intrusive observations into the courses during the one academic term for each university. Fourth, researcher accomplished interviews to tutors of these students in order to see online strategies from point of view of tutorial processes and to verify partly online learning strategies from students.  A total of 23 students replied the invitation to collaborate with this research (12% of the total possible) among the three universities, most of them related with educational jobs, with more than one year and less than seven years of experience in online educational environments and 25 detailed online learning processes as preferred strategies. Three tutors were kind of participating into this research and contribute with the validity process defined. Five courses were observed in one non-intrusive way during their respective academic term and 26 in-deep interviews were done in total. Being this research a GT study, as Strauss & Corbin (1998) describes, the systematic comparison method was the main analytic tool to get support and comprehend the educational online situation and strategies in the coding process. This method compares each incident (data or researcher memos) with previous ones for constructing specific categories through the four coding processes of GT wherein meaningful categories are generated and with them a theory model is constructed to explain the phenomenon in study. In the first coding process, called open coding, initial categories on online learning strategies were established from students and tutors, describing also their properties (subcategories) and observing their dimensions. In the second coding process, axial coding, researcher looked up to discover a central or core category to explain online learning strategies in students and explored interrelationships among them from causal conditions, context and consequences. With the selective coding, the third process, researcher could identify the central category as the one that could pull the other categories together to form an explanatory whole or storyline to online learning strategies in students. Finally, a fourth moment was developed to visualize a conditional matrix with which researcher related influenced contexts to specific online learning strategies and defined a theoretical explanation about all of this. This   5theoretical model is presented as the main result in this paper in the following section. 4. Emergent Theoretical Model of Online Learning Strategies to Students. The designed grounded theory model for online learning strategies to students is presented in Figure 1. This model was elaborated after to recognize from the selected categories of analysis three kind of possible conditions related with the online education and how these conditions interacting among them to promote specific strategies. Certainly, the model is seen under a linear vision of causes and effects, but this helps to simplify the explanation and representation of conceiving the complex reality to the phenomena of online education. Uncertainty; different learning and time management; personal, technological and educational challenges give causal, conditional and contextual circumstances that changes educational actions and schemes toward strategies as learning administration, collaborative learning, group leadership and reflexive thought. Consequences of these strategies could be explained by literate learning, knowledge construction and socialization, time management, self-regulation of feelings and actions and learning to learn. Those online learning strategies will be described through actions sets or basic properties. Each action related with one strategy respond to one particular interpretation accomplished by researcher from data, collected informants experiences and analysis from the previous GT coding phases. Learning management Learning management has to do with attitudes and processes of direction, control and decisions taken by students in order to learn in one online education. Students must be proactive toward learning and to have appropriate capacities (attention, abilities and effective study) joined with personal quality criteria. These actions are less developed in face to face education because many of them are given or oriented by teachers. In one online education, students must develop them by themselves. This forces students to be independent. For example, to develop a learning management involves actions derived from attitudes and discipline around learning as being proactive to learn, overcome solitude feelings or fears, a continuing learning as a habit, and to construct criteria and personal interpretations as part of their study. Also, learning management includes actions to direct learning toward understanding and making plans and personal evaluation for the courses, to define activities and results organized into one schedule and accordingly with the course design, to exert one specific direction to learn, to get an effective level of communication with teachers and peers and to complete the organizational and social emptiness felt in any online course. Learning management requires of actions to control activities and assigned time to learn. For instance, students must take advantage of the flexibility and possibilities to learn in synchrony or asynchrony processes, to take time control in order to make defined activities and to have technological abilities. In the same way, learning management needs of actions for taking decisions associated with learning as well how to take them and how to assume individual and group responsibilities.
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