Six critical dimensions: A model for widening participation in open, online and blended programs




online, blended, equity, inclusion, disadvantage, design model, qualitative synthesis


Working from the perspective of open and online learning for widening participation in higher education, this article advances a new conceptual model to guide practitioners and researchers in maximising the enablers and minimising the constraints to foundation level online learning for equity students. The model is adapted from technology for social inclusion research addressing persistent inequalities in Internet use. First, the proposed model is introduced with definitions for the six dimensions (course purpose, technology, social support, autonomy, learning materials and skills) and research propositions for how the dimensions enable and constrain learning. A qualitative synthesis of empirically tested open and online programs (including massive open online courses) is used to clarify how the six critical dimensions interact to enable and constrain diverse learners in distance and blended modes. Results support the model with new definitions for each dimension in light of unexpected findings: courses designed to enable particular groups; breadth of learner supports; technology amplifying other dimensions; and aspects of the model designed to empower disadvantaged learners. This model should assist course design research and practice at higher education institutions where open and online provision for diverse and educationally disadvantaged learners is the current or approaching reality.


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How to Cite

Lambert, S. R. (2019). Six critical dimensions: A model for widening participation in open, online and blended programs. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 35(6), 161–182.



Special Issue 2019 - Digital Equity