This paper adopts a constructivist view of learning. It seeks to explore the mechanisms behind knowledge construction and higher-order thinking in discussion board usage amongst a less traditional, increasingly growing student population of work-based, distance learners. Recent studies have highlighted a need to endorse and value studies which focus on the learner experience and have illustrated the need for students to have control and ownership of their online environments in order for them to be successful. However, these studies only included full-time students, in the 17-19 age bracket. As a consequence, this research aims to fill the gap by exploring the development of an online community within a more diverse and mature group of learners.
This paper details an empirical study which explores an online environment and identifies the factors needed to enable work-based, distance students to learn from sharing their professional experience. The authors believe that there is a need for insight into the ways in which this sub-group of students communicates, and the individual learners‟ experience within this. This paper will therefore discuss how the project explores the processes that lie behind the foundations of a successful online community, in the hope that this will help us to better manage the development of this technology within work-based online courses. It considers the views of this group of students and attempts to provide solutions to the issues raised concerning the underuse of this interactive tool. The research may therefore be of value and interest to those involved in designing work-based eLearning modules.