Benchmarking as a meaning approach to learning in online settings

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Parry, S & Dunn, L 2000, 'Benchmarking as a meaning approach to learning in online settings', Studies in Continuing Education, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 219-234.

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his paper reports an investigation of the approaches to learning of two groups of distance students studying in an online environment at Southern Cross University in 1999. The online units of study are in Law and Human Resource Management and feature collaborative learning tasks in the assessment regime. A key assumption in the design of these online units was that opportunities for interactivity would reduce the isolation reportedly experienced by distance learners. Interactivity among small groups of students within the cohorts was encouraged by an assessment regime that included group reports and individual assessment tasks. While the collaboration itself was not graded, the product of the collaboration, the group report from each small group, was assessed. The relevant design features of the units were informed by the literature on student learning and on flexible delivery and were intended to enrich student learning by creating a 'community of learners' where students could learn from each other. This paper discusses the interactive design features of the two online programs and the importance of assessment in reinforcing certain learning values, examines the approaches adopted by the students to these design features and explains how online learning can foster meaning approaches to learning tasks.