PhD in Educational Technology

The PhD is a three-year full-time programme of study, for students who already have a recognised Research Masters qualification in a relevant area.

The Institute of Educational Technology (IET) provides a stimulating, inclusive environment for full-time PhD research study in the areas of technology-enhanced learning, online and distance learning, mobile and game-based learning, learning analytics, learning design, design of learning technologies, and Higher Education policy and practice. A large cohort of 30+ PhD students work together on exciting, ground-breaking and internationally excellent research, from language learning in Indonesia, learning from history games, to sentiment analyses of emotions and providing blended learning for refugees.

In 2014, the UK's Research Excellence Framework (REF) rated our research environment as 4* - the highest mark possible. OU research in Education ranks second in the UK for the quality and quantity of its research. The Institute manages a suite of labs for technology design, usability testing and study of learning with technology.

PhD students in IET all also belong to the Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technology (CREET). Created in 2004 to bring together researchers from across the Open University, CREET is one of the largest educational research centres in the UK and is recognised internationally as a multi-disciplinary centre of excellence. IET’s EdD and PhD studentships sit within CREET’s research themes: Childhood Studies, Education Futures, Technology Enhanced Learning and Languages & Applied Linguistics. CREET works together with the IET and the School of Language Studies and Applied Linguistics in providing a world-leading research environment and developing field-defining contributions in these chosen themes.

How to Apply

Applications for PhD study with IET should be made through the Open University’s Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technology (CREET).

PhD Student Testimonials

Inge de Waard

Hello there, my name is Inge de Waard, I have been working in eLearning and mobile learning since 1998, and currently I am happy to be part of the PhD community at The Open University, affiliated with the Institute of Educational Technology.

Although I have earned eLearning awards, and have been successful professionally with several international eLearning and mobile learning projects behind my belt. I realized in 2012 that I needed a recognised and strong PhD title if I wanted to move on with my future career. This made me look around at potential PhD calls and opportunities. The reason I sent my application to the Open University, and more specifically to the Institute of Educational Technologies, was because I knew their reputation. Gladly, my PhD proposal got accepted, and since 2013 I started studying at IET with a full time studentship.

If your interest also lies in Online learning or technology enhanced learning, it does not take you long before you look at best practices from the Open University. They have been distributing open, evidence-based eLearning for decades, they have been leading the way forward. And now once again, with the MOOC platform FutureLearn as one of their partner flagships, they are again combining the latest online knowledge with new, ground-breaking social learning technologies.

My PhD topic investigates how experienced online learners self-determine their learning inside Massive Open Online Courses, in my case FutureLearn courses. I research courses that attract thousands of learners of all ages, and a variety of backgrounds, using multiple mobile or non-mobile devices to learn individually or collaboratively. And at the end I will enhance the knowledge of self-determined learning in massive open online courses, helping all of us.

Just imagine the topic of my PhD and then the supervisors I got! Within just a couple of weeks after being accepted my supervisors were chosen, one who is the lead pedagogical visionair behind the MOOC platform FutureLearn: Mike Sharples, and the other is one of the key mobile scholars around, namely Agnes Kukulska-Hulme. Their supervision, combined with rigorous work, and a plethora of PhD courses made available by IET, ensures a high quality PhD journey, which I enjoy every day.

So do not hesitate and have a look at all the PhD opportunities here.

Jenna Mittelmeier

My PhD research uses Learning Analytics to analyse student-generated data to design targeted support systems, particularly for ethnic minority and international students. I was initially attracted to the Open University because I had followed the work of IET’s academic researchers while conducting my MA research and wanted the opportunity to work closely with leaders in my field.

The best part about doing my PhD with IET is that I can consistently work on a wide range of academic activities, including attending conferences, writing publication pieces and submitting bid proposals. I have the opportunity here to focus on my research topic, but also receive varied training on related topics to strengthen my overall research skills. The researchers in IET collaborate with one another and include PhD students as equals, which has allowed me to grow as a researcher in ways that could not have been possible elsewhere. As a result, I never feel that I must work independently at the OU, but rather that I have a wide set of contacts (both within and outside my supervision team) to approach when I have questions or want additional training. Overall, I feel confident that I am on track to becoming an independent researcher because of my time at IET and the OU.

Katy Jordan

I joined the Open University as a PhD student in October 2012, after completing a Masters degree in Educational Research at the University of Cambridge. During this and my earlier work on a range of technology-enhanced learning projects I developed an ambition to do a PhD and, with the award of a CREET studentship, IET was the ideal place to realise this.

My research interests generally fall within the impact of the Internet upon Higher Education, and on this theme, my doctoral research project is focused upon academics’ use of online social networking services. Such sites have been identified as having the potential to revolutionise academics’ work by improving communication, supporting collaboration, and allowing online academic identity management. However, little empirical work has examined how such networks are being used in practice, and fewer studies have examined the network structure, which is a key affordance of social networking sites compared to institutional web pages for example. This project uses a mixed methods social network analysis approach to examine the reasons why academics use these sites, the structure of the personal networks which develop, and the participants’ interpretations of the network structures, across a range of academic job positions and disciplines.

IET is a great department to work in as it has an excellent reputation for research in open and online learning and digital scholarship. It reflects the OU’s history as leaders in this field, whilst also being at the forefront of current issues and research. Whilst studying for my PhD, I had the opportunity to secure a grant from the Gates Foundation to undertake a small project based on MOOC completion rates, which won one of the OU’s Engaging Research awards.

Maria Aristeidou

IET had always been a place I always wanted to join as it holds a world leading role in Technology-Enhanced Learning and I was very pleased when, back to 2012, I was accepted as a full time PhD research student. Currently, I am a 3rd year student, looking forward to complete my PhD thesis and move on to my academic career.

The aim of my PhD research is to explore the engagement of people in online communities of scientific investigations, focusing on how they can get support to start their own investigations to which other people can contribute. For my research I combined knowledge from Citizen Science, Inquiry-based Learning and Online Communities. My supervisors, Professors Mike Sharples and Eileen Scanlon have been my support during my journey.

The best part of doing your PhD in IET is the opportunity for networking and receiving feedback by people who are top names in the field. Alongside this opportunity, there are plenty of workshops and seminars available for our professional and academic development that we can join as university staff members. Last, but not least, people in IET are very welcome and they make you feel like you are having a second family - not to mention the regular presence of cakes, chocolates and biscuits!