The managed learning environment in Scottish higher education: a socio-technical exploration

  This thesis presents a socio-technical account of the adoption and development
of Managed Learning Environments (MLE) in three Universities in Scotland.
The term 'development' is used here to refer to the way that MLE initiatives
evolve over time as the MLE framework is introduced into the universities
discussed here. MLE is a technology framework that has been advocated by
Funding Agencies and the Joint Information Systems Committee (the
government body responsible for developing information systems in UK Higher
Education) as a way of creating an institutional technology platform through
which a University can create more efficient and effective online teaching
practice and student management processes. This involves integrating all
University information and learning systems into one standardised institutional
Introducing a large-scale 1. T. initiative, such as MLE adoption and development,
into the University is far from straightforward. Sectoral research indicates that
MLE initiatives have not, in general, achieved the level of standardisation and
integration of systems advocated in MLE policy. It suggests this may be because
MLE initiatives have underestimated the social and technical complexity
involved in MLE adoption and development. This has led to a call from within
the Higher Education sector for more in-depth case study research of MLE
initiatives in Universities in order to better understand what constrains them.
The research reported on within this thesis adopts a socio-technical approach to
understanding MLE adoption and development. This aims to understand the
processes of interaction between technical and social elements involved in MLE
initiatives. In particular, it analyses the influence of the broad social, political and
commercial context of MLE advocacy on MLE initiatives in the case studies as a
way of accounting for their different trajectories of MLE development.
The thesis presents an examination of the way that actors in the case studies
develop and construct expectations of MLE in practice that can drive MLE
initiatives but, it is found, also constrain them. As a way of investigating how
expectations for MLE adoption and development are constructed by participants
in the case studies an analytical framework is developed that includes
Technology Framing (Orlikowski & Gash, 1994), Computerisation Movements
(Iacono, 2001) and an Ecology of Games (Dutton, 1995).
The study develops several key insights regarding MLE adoption and
development in the case studies that relate to the influence of the broad social,
political and commercial context ofMLE advocacy. It finds that advocates ofthe
MLE framework bring MLE expectations and artefacts into the University
through engagement with wider networks of influence in this broad MLE
'landscape'. In an alternative pattern of socio-technical interaction, some groups
counter frame MLE and seek an organisationally autonomous approach to
technology practice.
The MLE framework is found to be shaped in multiple locations, multiple levels
and across a trajectory of events and interactions. In this pattern of technological
development, the research demonstrates the key role of boundary dynamics and
gate keeping within Universities, as MLE actors negotiate the boundaries
between the University and the dynamics of the wider MLE 'landscape'. It is
found that this process challenges established University gatekeepers and
boundaries of socio-technical practice. In the Higher Education sector, rather
than creating a 'level playing field' in UK Higher Education between well
resourced and less well resources Universities, as first envisaged in MLE related
policy, MLE adoption and development is found to be associated with defining
distinctions between the case study Universities.

  • Dates:

    2004 to 2009

  • Qualification:

    Doctorate (PhD)

Project Team