The Web is a culturally valued cognitive tool with the potential to transform the learner in ways not yet recognised. Whilst the Web has proved to have significant impact on forms of communication and methods of distributing and accessing information, less is understood of how its unique characteristics may impact upon individuals – their approach to learning and the skills and attributes required to successfully participate.
In order to gain such insight through structured research an integrated theoretical approach to examining Web-based learning is presented in this paper. This integrated approach underpins a qualitative research study aimed at understanding more about learners as they participate in Web-based environments. This integrated theoretical approach to Web-based learning also enables analysis of this unique and complex environment by examining multiple elements – society, tool, activity and individual – thus permitting an in-depth exploration of the phenomena.
The study presented in this paper is a case-study of five competent young Web-users. It relies on research methods of observation, think-aloud protocols and post-activity interviews, which have been used to gain an insight into the learning taking place in Web-based environments. Initial analysis of these data has resulted in the development of a profile of the Web-based learner in terms of the learner ‘roles’ which are required and/or promoted in this environment. This paper will explore the theoretical underpinnings guiding the study, the research methods employed and the subsequent Web-based learner profile.