OMG or starting a PhD in open learning #phdchat cc @smythkrs

What am I doing? Isn’t my life already full? Where on earth will I find the time needed for this? Will my family forget about me completely? Will my kids forget that they have a mummy? Will I feel guilty all the time? How will I manage? How will we manage?

Under a Tall Mountain


All I see is this massive mountain in front of me. Will I ever get there? I am afraid of heights… my inner passion and determination have always been my drive to move forwards, despite the difficulties. I picked myself up again and again, but will I be able to do this? There is a shadow hanging over me… an unfinished PhD and 80,000 words under my bed. Long and painful story. Let’s move on!

Yes, a few days ago, I finally received confirmation that I can start this PhD project.

I have been flirting with the idea for some years now while doing my second Masters qualification in Blended and Online Education at Edinburgh Napier University. Ok, I better say now what it will be about. Well, the plan is to investigate open learning in the context of Academic Development and identify how we can enhance the learner experience, increase motivation and successful completion. I have been a learner myself on the CMC11 and the MOOCMOOC, both MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and I ran my own little pilot as an open course organiser about 2 years ago. The experience I gained and the lessons learned from being a MOOC learner and an open course organiser enabled me to experience learning from different perspectives. I soon realised the potential but also came face-to-face with the problems and while, I am sure I won’t be able to solve them all, I would like to hope that I will be able to make a small contribution in the area of open learning.

Not sure how much or how little I could say here and if it is appropriate to make my proposal available. I guess, this is something I need to discuss with my supervisor.


is it ok to share it all from the beginning…

Already thinking about the thesis. Too early? Thinking about creating a template, so that I am organised from the beginning. Also I must do something about a referencing system. Not used Endnote but people keep mentioning it. Must check! 80,000 words, words that I will put together bit by bit, day by day, night by night… OMG – this sounds a lot and is a lot! 200 a day? 80,000 divided by 200 equals 400 days. I am borrowing this approach from one of my previous lives when I used to be a translator for publishing houses. Setting a realistic some goal that is achievable, gives us satisfacion and the will to do a bit more. This is exactly what happens when I was translating books, some of them quite massive! Three pages a day and when I felt that I still had some energy in my batteries, I kept going. When I was tired and my brain stopped working I stopped and returned fresh the following day while I was still pleased that I had reached my daily target. So, if I follow this simplistic strategy now doing a PhD, it will only take me 400 days to write it. I did my calculations you see. But is is not about the writing is it? It is about the discoveries I will be making along the Way, I hope. The unwriting and rewriting, the messiness, the chaos, making sense of my own ideas and these of others. The experimentation! The fun part? But also literature, some probably extremely complicated and complex etc. etc.

The questions that zoom around in my head at the moment are: Can I do this? Can I do this well and create something new and of value? There is only one way to find out!


is my passion for open learning strong enough…

I would like to start blogging about this PhD project. But I have no idea if I really will be able to reflect regularly… I think blogging will help me capture some of my reflections and share them with others. Hopefully, this way, I won’t feel that lonely and lost in my research. Hopefully, somebody will read what I write and comment. Hopefully, I will find other researchers to connect with. To connect thinking and ideas. Hopefully, I will still love open learning when I finish this project… hopefully.

12 thoughts on “OMG or starting a PhD in open learning #phdchat cc @smythkrs

  1. Go, go, go Chrissi.

    Nothing nor no one will stop you now. And those who (may) try will just impel you to continue to go forward. Keep going. Don’t look back.

    A PhD is a discovering journey into your intellect and feelings, assumptions and perspectives, etc. And it is also about perseverance. Sometimes it will bring you joy; sometimes it will drive you mad. What can I say? It’s not a boring ride. 😉

    A PhD is a long project for one person alone. Make sure you get to meet people along the way that are worth sharing this experience with. Only those will matter!

    Having a reference system that works from the beginning is very important! I used the paid version of Zotero. I do not regret it.

    Also, establish your backup system, and the way you will organise the different versions of the same writing. It’s important to keep those. If for nothing else, it shows evolution. In a PhD you are not only “growing knowledge”, you are growing yourself.

    And when it gets tough, smile at yourself, because tomorrow you will be able to see clearer what today looks so blurry.

    The hardest step is to start… You’ve done that already! 😉


    • Hi Cristina,

      Thank you for your valuable suggestions. You are right the discovery is also into our own self and this is probably a valuable lesson for life as Simon also mentioned to us not so long ago.

      This project does seem very extensive (too extensive) to enjoy it all the time? But then again, I guess there are ups and downs in whatever we do in life and if everything would be bright and sunny we wouldn’t appreciate it that much… I will try my best to stay positive in the dark moments and focus on what I am learning and remind myself why I am doing this but also how it will feel when I finish it…. this seems 150 years away at the moment…

      I must get organised with referencing systems. Clueless at the moment. But will check at Uni here, if we have any further info on these and any workshops I could join. Thank you for the Zotero tip.

      Thanks again

      My journey has began 😉
      Chrissi or Crisis (as I keep writing many times by accident when I speed-type… )

  2. Hi Chrissi

    I don’t think I could put it any better than Cristina, but I’ll add two things if I may.

    First of all I had my own doubts and challenges doing my PhD, some were of the kind everyone has and some were personal to me. It went well in the end though, and I made a decent job of it. However having worked with you over your MSc, including your dissertation, I can safely say that if I had your drive and enthusiam I would have made an even better job of my own PhD.

    Secondly, you may not realise how far you’ve come already. One of our first milestones in a few months time is to submit your RD4 form which clarifies your research questions, methods, and provides an overview of current literature to frame your research. The research degrees committee then approve this to put the official stamp on exactly what you’ll be doing. However, such was the strength of your initial proposal that accompanied your application that you have pretty much taken care of the RD4 already. That’s no mean feat by any stretch, and the work you’ve done already is not to be underestimated.

    Let’s have a discussion around the other points you’ve raised, but as Cristina says the hardest step is to start…and what a start you’ve made 🙂


    • Hi Keith,

      This is all very encouraging and thank you for your kind words too. Can I submit this RD4 now? Just kidding 😉 I hope I will be able to manage and I am really looking forward to working with you and your team on this.

      I will put a template together in the next few days for the thesis and share it with you and it would also be useful to have a chat before Nov if that is possible.

      Wondering how much or how little I should capture online. I feels a bit strange to do research on open learning and hide stuff away… ;(

      The development of the open FDOL module has began with Sweden (well, not with the whole country, with my dear colleague Lars Uhlin) and the plan is to offer it in January for the first time. His institution is very supportive of this joint initiative.

      Looking forward to a chat when you have a moment.



  3. Good luck with it Chrissi! Funnily enough, I’ve just started on the same path. Began my PhD in September and I’m just working through the lit review now.

    I thought I’d do the same thing and capture my progress on a blog too – I’m sure mine will be far less interesting, so I’ll have to keep up with your progress here 🙂 I’ve added you to my links list! If you’re interested, have a look over at


  4. Hi Colin,

    Thank you Colin. Good to hear that you are in the same boat and also just started. Would be lovely to find out more about your project and as I said on Twitter, it might be good to keep in touch. I am not familiar at all with the paperwork and the forms you are using at Napier ;( Also, I was wondering if there is a template for the thesis? I was thinking to copy the structure of the MSc dissertation and use this. How about you? Trying to get organised early on… 😉

    Good luck with your research project and keep in touch.
    ps. Will also check out the website and also create a PhDs links. Excellent idea Colin

    • Have to admit, I’ve not even looking at templates yet – I’m not so organised 🙂 First step is figuring out exactly what I’m supposed to be researching! It’s really good having a pretty broad scope, so I can tailor it to my interests, but it’s also a bit intimidating trying to come up with something meaningful!

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