Does subject matter? A comparative study of framing and classification in the online and contact versions of two postgraduate management courses and the implications for student learning

Master Thesis


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This study is positioned in the context of the South African higher education landscape, which is currently grappling with issues of access and inequality. Online education is one of the potential approaches to expand access to South African students, but has often been met with skepticism as to its pedagogical quality, and has been perceived as an inferior alternative to traditional contact education. A comparative research design is followed in which two courses within a postgraduate marketing management qualification at a South African public university are compared. This qualification is offered in both contact and online format. The same courses within different modes of education are compared, as well as different courses within the same mode of education. A coding system was created based on Basil Bernstein’s concepts of framing and classification, and the courses were compared based on various dimensions of framing and classification. The study aimed to explore the affordances and limitations of both contact and online education. It was found that the ‘sequence’ and ‘pace’ aspects of framing are impacted by mode of education, with the online learning environment allowing students more agency in determining the pace and sequence of their learning. The ‘hierarchical rules’ aspect of framing is also impacted by mode, with the online courses offering an inherently non-hierarchical learning environment. It was found that weaker framing over these elements can present either an affordance or limitation, depending on the subject matter, with some types of subject matter being well suited to weaker framing over sequence, pace, and hierarchical rules, and others being constrained by it.