Curious incidents: designing and implementing a virtual learning environment about Asperger’s Syndrome

Geraldine Jones, Alan Reid, Tim Bilham

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


This paper discusses the outcomes and insights gained through designing and implementing a virtual learning environment to foster a learning community of care and support staff working with young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome, at a group of Residential Special Education schools in Frome, Somerset.

Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is a pervasive developmental disorder, thought to be related to autism but differing in significant ways. AS manifests very individualistically and therefore a single, one-size-fits-all approach to care or training does not work; support requires personalized awareness, understanding, and tailored implementation. Thus, while staff may have to cater for the needs of individuals like a ‘Christopher Boone’ (Haddon’s protagonist in the Curious Incident …), competence in professional practice requires a broader base of understanding regarding the nature, causes, effects and assessment of AS, alongside strategies and interventions for promoting effective learning during communicative and pedagogical situations with a diversity of students with AS.

The paper explores how the ‘blend’ of face to face and online sessions, the use of Etivities and the role of human facilitators contributed to the development of a learning community which, in parts, mirrored, reinforced or transformed the existing care and support community of practice. Dispersal of the care and support staff through different physical locations and over time (shift work), the demands of their role, and the low occupational status of their work, meant that these workers had few opportunities to discuss issues with colleagues or to participate in training. In this project, as members of a wider course development team of parents, professionals, academics, etc., the staff played a pivotal role in crafting and shaping their own learning experience through dialogue with the wider course development team, validating the philosophy, structure and approach of the training, and testing and piloting it. The theoretical framework for the design of the virtual environment was strongly influenced by socio-constructivist models of learning and drew on the models of community described by Macmillan, Rovai and Lucking. Sympathetic to the prevailing care and support culture, the online learning process was driven by a series of Etivities which built meaningful pathways through the learning materials and followed Salmon’s 5 stage model. The process was facilitated by emoderators working with AS tutors who provided subject matter expertise. Authentic final assignments based around the production and presentation of case studies not only generated additional content for further iterations of the course, but were of great value to the care and support community as they helped encapsulate, share and evaluate much tacit knowledge surrounding their work. The project was funded through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership between the University of Bath and Priory Healthcare Group.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2005
EventComputer Assisted Learning - Cal '05: Virtual Learning? - Bristol, UK United Kingdom
Duration: 4 Apr 20056 Apr 2005


ConferenceComputer Assisted Learning - Cal '05: Virtual Learning?
Country/TerritoryUK United Kingdom


  • blended learning
  • learning communities
  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • etivities


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