Phenomenography: Developing An Online Course

The science of andragogy is understanding and supporting lifelong learning in adult learners and developing the teaching of adult learners (Knowles, Holton & Swanson, 2011). This discussion on the main conditions around contemporary learning utilising a phenomenological theoretical framework environment is aimed to improve learning and the philosophy of knowledge.


A student centred educationally developed course, with the environment developed from the instructor having walked in the student’s shoes. “Instructors must then not only ask “What is learned?” and “What is transferred?”, but also “What should be learned?” and “What should be transferred?” (Marton, 2006).

Background on Phenomenographic & Variation Theory.

Phenomenography/Variation Online Course (E-Learning)

  • Variation would be the nature of the course to provide adaptability and agility of the course and the student (#interleaving)
  • Creating scenarios based on variances and differences to engage, investigate and change perspectives.
  • Advancing technology, use of an array of online resources to explore phenomena. Web based, gamification, point of view could all be included as part of this development.
  • Engage in scholarly discourse, to critique and discuss content to encourage a wide range of views and perspectives. Increases oral and listening skills also as an ongoing life skill.
  • Two way discussion for developing enquiry and negotiation skills.
  • As part of the exploration, look at both sides (pro’s and con’s, for and against, good and bad) to develop knowledge.
  • Encourage students to think outside the box.
  • Error free learning environment.
  • Facilitator must engage closely with students to ensure students understand the variations, diversity and phenomena.
  • E-portfolio for reflective practice and really understand their personal feelings, process and developmental journey.

Transformation Aims

Student skills development, especially focusing on experience, ability to critique and question and notice differences in the variations. A personal growth from the transfer of the learning and discern meaning out of the learning experience. Phenomenon based learning is to equip students with the skills to flourish in the 21st century technology driven era.

Keywords: transfer; phenomenology; Marton; agent of learning; e-learning; phenomenon based learning; PBL.


Knowles, M. S., Holton III, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2011). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development.

Marton, F. (2006). Sameness and Difference in Transfer. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 15(4), 499-535. doi: 10.1207/s15327809jls1504_3

Phenomenographic & Variation Theory

Phenomenographic & Variation Theory

The phenomenological perspective is based around understanding the experiences of others, for example a teacher gaining an understanding of the student’s perspective of a particular lesson. Basing this approach around the individual’s perspective, continual evolvement occurs in the different learning experiences we participate in (Marton, 1981). The same educational content could be delivered to a group of individuals which results in different meanings and interpretations to each individual.

Marton and Trigwell (2000) explored this variation in learning situations and what can be achieved with different learning strategies, stating “variation is the mother of learning’. Martin & Booth (1997) highlight the individual concepts of different ways of seeing or experiencing, conceptualising, perceiving and understanding phenomena in the world. For understanding education, one needs to see the impacts on variation and learning. It is worth focusing directly on the learner, “The real distinction of phenomenology is the focus on the student/learner approach to learning, classified as deep, surface or strategic” (Marton, Hounsell, and Entwistle, 1984).

This individualistic, interpretist experience of the learner also utilises a process called transfer (Marton, 2006). According to Marton (2006), transfer utilises previous experience and recognising differences from past and current learning situations, this develops the idea of sameness in terms of learning, but also emphasises this cannot occur without recognising differences at the same time. “And when it comes to preparing students for an unknown future, the nature of variation is of decisive importance” (Marton and Trigwell, 2000, p. 394).

Thorndike’s stimulus-response associations in learning explains this transfer of the learning process from one situation to another, even in completely different topics (Knowles et al, 2011). The process then starts again in this new situation but the transfer is from the learners past context and experiences (Marton, 2006). In phenomenography the learner may determine what is learned, rather than the traditional teacher determined learning outcomes (Biggs and Tang, 2007). Marton & Trigwell (2000) “position the student as the agent of learning”.

“By using phenomenography one can identify how key concepts are understood by the learner, while variation theory can assist in identifying the aspects that need to be varied for the students to gain a deep, and complete understanding, thus improving learning outcomes.” (Stamouli and Huggard, 2007).

Keywords: transfer; individualistic; phenomenology; Marton; agent of learning.


Marton, F. (1981). Phenomenography—Describing conceptions of the world around us. Instructional Science, 10, 177-220.

Marton, F. (2000). The structure of awareness. In J. Bowden & E. Walsh (Eds.), Phenomenography (pp. 102-116). Melbourne: RMIT University Press.

Marton, F. (2006). Sameness and Difference in Transfer. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 15(4), 499-535. doi: 10.1207/s15327809jls1504_3

Marton, F., Hounsell, D., & Entwistle, N. J. (1984). The experience of learning. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press.

Marton, F., & Trigwell, K. (2000). Variatio Est Mater Studiorum. Higher Education Research & Development, 19(3), 381-395. doi: 10.1080/07294360020021455

Stamouli, I. & Huggard, M. (2007) Phenomenography as a tool for understanding our students. Trinity College Dublin.