Discursive Effects of a Paradigm Shift Rhetoric in Online Higher Education: Implications on Networked Learning Research and Practice

  • Kyungmee Lee
Part of the Research in Networked Learning book series (RINL)


The aim of this chapter is to critically examine some discursive effects of the ‘paradigm shift’ rhetoric that is commonly used in the advocacy of online higher education. The chapter will unpack how that particular rhetoric—which permeates generalist discourse about online higher education—impacts upon actual distance education practices in specific higher education settings, such as ‘open universities’, where distance education is the core institutional function and where the historical development of practice has been separated from that of ‘mainstream’ higher education. The chapter focuses on the transition from the earlier form of distance education, which was largely associated with and led by dedicated distance universities, to the current form of online higher education, which operates and is discussed more and more frequently in mainstream higher education contexts, such as traditional campus-based universities. The particular ‘paradigm shift’ rhetoric that emerged during that transition will be discussed, and its discursive effects on distance education practices in open universities will be analysed. The main argument is that the rhetoric, as a widespread academic discourse, has generated and continues to perpetuate a ‘gap’ between learning theories and instructional practices in the open university settings—where current distance education practices have arisen from a unique course of historical development but which are now subjected to ‘paradigm shift’ rhetoric being imposed from outside. The implications for networked learning research and practice will be discussed, and several suggestions will be made, whereby the networked learning community might develop a more balanced and critical discourse about online higher education.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Educational Research, Lancaster UniversityLancasterUK

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