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Greg Fantham

Greg Fantham

Greg Fantham originally graduated in History and Psychology and went on to complete a MSc (Econ) in International Relations at the London School of Economics. He continued his research in nuclear war in the department of War Studies at King’s College, London. Tired of nuclear war, Greg moved into high school teaching for a slightly more optimistic experience, teaching history in a UK comprehensive school and then in Dubai, while upgrading his psychology qualifications. He completed a MSc Occupational Psychology degree with Leicester University in 2007 and started full-time at Heriot-Watt University Dubai in January 2016, teaching the MSc Business Psychology programme, as well as undergraduate classes in social psychology. Greg is fascinated by the psychology of teaching and of educational media, which led to his current involvement in the development of Heriot-Watt’s online learning MSc in Business and Organisational Psychology. He has written on psychology topics in most of the UAE’s national newspapers, and presented workshops for teachers and pupils in Dubai high schools and Dubai Islamic Bank, on coaching, innovation, AI, workplace design, and leadership. Research publications include a study of clients’ coaching style preferences (co-author).

Psychology meets digital media meets pedagogy

The growth of online learning is spectacular and increasingly disruptive. It predates Covid and continues to gather pace. Registered online learners number hundreds of millions, and the sector attracts tens of billions of dollars of annual investment (World Economy Forum, 2022; McKinsey, 2022). And it is evolving. New generations of online learning design no longer seek to mimic traditional text-based and face-to-face configurations. They are, instead, redefining relationships between academic content producers, media and students; generating new psychological challenges that traditional pedagogies will need to accommodate if they want to keep up with the times.

In line with these advances, a new generation of online courses is being offered at Heriot-Watt University. One of the pioneering degrees in Business and Organisational Psychology is the product of an across-the-globe collaboration between the academic and media teams. This production process has afforded valuable psychological insights into teaching and learning in a digital world. Firstly, a reconsideration of the social identities of both academics and media professionals: academics have a traditional attachment to the printed word, and media professionals a traditional detachment from the nuances of content. Psychological adjustments are negotiated on both sides as they make the transition to the category of “third space professionals” in the intersection of two traditional domains (Whitchurch, 2008). Secondly, the psychological design of an asynchronous online environment to support mentored dialogic inquiry: in essence, a virtual intellectual Escape Room which deploys digital media to motivate and entice students to engage in knowledge-creating dialogues with others. “Others” who are real, imagined, or somewhere in between. There is discussion of the graduated ways in which the enticements, or “bread crumbs” of cues and prompts, might be distributed effectively. The key rôle of engendering a “feeling-of-knowing” (Keil, 2006) ahead of understanding and application is examined and illustrated in detail. Finally, although the relationship between Academic and Student in an asynchronous online setting is an indirect one (literally mediated), the human relationship can be asserted in several ways, which are discussed; and the online setting facilitates, with suitable guidance, the student’s engagement with still wider communities of learning (Wegerif, 2019).
The world is changing, and academics must appreciate that video is not an inferior form of teaching, and keeping up does not mean dumbing down.

Keil F. C. (2006). Explanation and understanding. Annual review of psychology, 57, 227–254.

McKinsey Insights (2022). Demand for online education is growing. Are providers ready? Online article, July 20, 2022. Accessed 6/7/23 Check out this useful article:
Demand for online education is growing. Are providers ready?

Wegerif, R. (2019). Towards a dialogic theory of education for the Internet Age. In
(Mercer, N., Wegerif, R. and Major, L. eds) The Routledge International Handbook of Research on Dialogic Education. Routledge.

Whitchurch, C. (2008). "Shifting Identities and Blurring Boundaries: The Emergence of Third Space Professionals in UK Higher Education". Higher Education Quarterly 62(4): 377-396.

World Economic Forum (2022) Three charts show the global growth in online learning. Online article, Jan 27, 2022. Accessed 6/7/23.

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