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

Sameness and Difference in Transfer

What Is Transfer?

Transfer of learning can be described as the process  to which past experiences affect learning and performance in a new situation. Transfer theory is to consider how individuals transfer learning in one context to another similar context.

What Is Learned?

If we think of transfer in terms of considering how learners do something in a situation thanks to having done something similar in a previous situation. From an educational point of view, Marton makes us consider that the learner may be able to do something different in other situations, thanks to perceived differences (and also the similarities) between situations.

So in nursing we may relate to past experience to deal with a clinical situation. This can be a positive aspect where we can be systematic and provide effective and timely interventions. The nurse educator needs to train staff to follow process (such as the A-E of assessment in clinical deterioration), to avoid our ‘priors’ making us think this situation is identical to a past experience, we may miss something new related to this unique situation.

Historical origins and culture of transfer

The Behaviour Paradigm: Thorndike (1913) the human mind makes “particular reactions to particular situations” (pg 249). Do not expect learning something specific to have a general effect on other things. “Learning is conceived as the constitution of bonds between stimuli (features of the environment) and responses (reactions of the learner)”.

The Cognitivist Approach: Judd (1908) where learning involves the constitution of more and more powerful representations of the world around us.

The Functionalist View: Lave (1988) provides the metaphor of knowledge, as a set of tools stored in the memory of the learner for use in different situations.

Situated learning suggests that what surrounds the learning event is also important in understanding learning.


“Transfer is about people being able to do similar things in different sitautions because of similarities between those situations. The key aim is that “by learning (now) how to learn (in the future), learners will be better able to cope with novel situations”.


Marton, F. (2006). Sameness and difference in transfer. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 15(4), 499-535.