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Belongingness in Health Professions Education: What does it mean and how is it experienced by distance learners?

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Applications are invited for a 3-year full time PhD self-funded studentship.

The studentship will focus on belongingness in distance learning. We are not prescriptive with specific aims and research questions. These will be negotiated with the student during the initial time frame of the studentship and any funders’ requirements (if funding is to be secured externally).

We would expect that the initial aims of the studentship could be to explore what belongingness means in a distance learning medical education context. For example, how is it experienced by distance learners on HPE Programmes? How does this relate to engagement and participation on the course?

The methodological approach and associated data collection methods will be determined by the student and shaped by the chosen line of enquiry. We would encourage consideration of a mixed methods approach.

Recent years have seen an explosion in the numbers and types of distance education opportunities available (Seaman, Allen & Seaman 2018) including postgraduate Health Professions Education courses (Artino, Cervero, DeZee, Holmboe & Durning 2018; 26/02/2019). Many health professions choose distance learning alongside work commitments for pragmatic reasons. Research has started to explore how distance learners engage in learning online environments (O’Shea, Stone & Delahunty, 2015). Related to this is a growing understanding of the importance of belongingness for students and its relation to engagement, participation and success (Thomas, Herbert & Teras 2014; Schofield & Gibson 2019). However, at present there is a paucity of research looking at what belongingness may mean and how it is experienced for part-time distance learners on health professional education programmes, who are arguable already embedded in their own healthcare environments.

To apply please send a cover letter, curriculum vitae and two references to:


Artino AR, Cervero RM, DeZee KJ, Holmboe E, Durning SJ (2018) Graduate Programs in Health Professions Education: Preparing Academic Leaders for Future Challenges. Journal of Graduate Medical Education, Vol. 10 (2), pp. 119-122.
O'Shea S, Stone C, Delahunty J (2015) “"I 'feel' like I am at university even though I am online." exploring how students narrate their engagement with higher education institutions in an online learning environment.” Distance Education vol 36 (1), pp.41-58. Doi: 10.1080/01587919.2015.1019970
Seaman JE, Allen IE, Seaman J (2018) Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group
Schofield SJ, Gibson H (2019) ‘In search of belonging for online learners’, SEDA conference, Belfast, 9-10th May 2019
Thomas L, Herbert J, Teras M (2014) A sense of belonging to enhance, participation, success and retention in online programs. The International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education, vol 5(2), pp.69-80.

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