Visiting and residing in online learning

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I have just watched a number of really interesting videos presented by David White at the University of Oxford on a framework that helps understand the way in which people engage with the internet called the Visitors and Residents framework.

This blog isn’t to explain that framework as David White does that brilliantly in the videos (do watch them – there are links below) but to try to record some thoughts and tangents that they inspired based on the distinctions introduced in the video.

One of the two continua making up the map of engagement in the online world is the distinction between personal and institutional engagement.  Education takes place in an institutional context – the educator is a staff member and the learner is a student – and in a sense their practices are influenced by institutional and academic expectations.  So this links to my previous blog, what is valued and important in this space is developing an academic voice, presenting a cogent argument, being critical, considering the credibility of resources, reflecting on practice and so on.  This is different to what is valued elsewhere – in the personal life of a student or in their professional workplace context.  So students don’t necessarily start out with these skills and neither are they familiar with the technologies that support them to do this such as digital library searches, referencing software and platforms such as adobe connect.  It’s only through their studies that students learn these skills and develop technical proficiency in using the tools that support them.  Hence, the cultural shock that some experience in the first few weeks of their first online module –  even amongst those who are really practiced at using the online world in their personal and professional lives.

But there is another more subtle challenge too – that of conceptions about learning.  A more tradiional idea of learning focuses on learner-to-content interaction and learner-to-educator interaction.  A student can engage as a visitor to the VLE platform, read journals or books via the online library and interact relatively privately in emails or via the assessment process with their lecturer.  In using online technology to learn in this way, the student leaves no permanent trace of themselves on the web, so their engagement is towards the Visitor end of the continuum – the web is simply used as a tool to achieve a goal.

However, as educators adopt pedagogies based more on constructivist principles and social learning, they introduce learning activities that promote learner-to-learner interaction (or even learner-to-wider-world interaction) such as exchanging ideas on a forum, blogging or posting up diagrams.  This challenges students to take more of a resident role in the online learning environment.  They need to become visible and manage their identity even if that it only to the ‘closed’ community of those they are studying a module with rather than the wider world.  These interactions are different to the informal ones that students may have with family or friends or even other students outside of the institutional environment because they are there to practice academic practice – thoughtful, acknowledging uncertainty, referencing, dialogical and so on.  This isn’t necessarily an easy style so even those who are strongly resident in the online world in their personal life may find it a challenge to be a resident in the institutional context.

Not really sure what this means for my practice at the moment.  Still mulling it over – but at least publishing this blog ensures that I have written something down!


There are a series of three videos on a Youtube playlist curated by jiscnetskills.  See  They are titled:

  • Visitors and residents
  • Visitors and residents: Credibility
  • Visitors and residents: Open Practice

There are also two longer videos embedded in posts on the University of Oxford’s TALL blog.

  • is an introduction to the framework
  • gives an overview of the mapping process and in doing so raises some important ideas about pedagogical issues

I haven’t listened to it myself but there is also a very recent podcast available at


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