About Me

Dr. Colin Milligan‌‌


Colin Milligan

I am a learning researcher with an interest in self-directed learning and the personal learning ‌networks that individuals engage in to support their learning. Increasingly, learners must take primary (and often, full) responsibility for their learning, so it is important to understand their motivations, and how their learning skills emerge and develop (for example to identify learning needs, evaluate learning opportunities and recognise learning that has occurred).

I believe that learners should be enabled to take control of their learning wherever possible. They should be supported and encouraged to articulate precisely what they want to learn, and guided to engage in learning experiences that match both their existing knowledge and their identified learning needs. In formal contexts, learning should (where possible) be focused around creation of new knowledge, with the learning artefacts created serving as evidence of learning, a base for further learning through reflection, and as a point of connection to others with similar interests or learning goals. Learning should be social, shared through professional and peer networks. For adults, motivation is key to learning, and for the teacher, understanding the motivations of individual students is paramount.

With Glasgow Caledonian University I have been involved in studies exploring knowledge workers’ learning practices in the petrochemical ‌and finance industries, examined learning of professionals in mainstream and connectivist MOOCs, supervised a PhD student exploring research student learning by examining their employability development, and specified tools to support learning towards goals through a process we call ‘Charting’.

I have recently changed role at Glasgow Caledonian University and now have responsibility for undertaking and supporting educational research across the University as part of the Educational Research & Evaluation team.

Finding Me Online

You can find traces of me in many places in the web.  A good starting point is twitter @cdmilligan  or my LinkedIn profile. The landing site: about.me/colinmilligan provides a comprehensive set of links.

On this site, you can visit my publications page, which provides links to my published work, and includes links to other professional social networks. Meanwhile, my experience page digs into the mists of time to link some of my previous work.

You can find some of my recent work here:   ‌‌

  • Work and Learning at the Boundaries of Knowledge: this project looked specifically at self-regulated learning practices in the financial services sector, delivering three peer-reviewed publications and qualitative and quantitative instruments, all of which can be found on the outputs page for the project.
  • Professional Learning in MOOCs (pl-mooc): a study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation exploring the relationship between design and learner behaviour in an edX MOOC. Visit the PL-MOOC pages to see the findings, recommendations and outputs of this project. A first research paper has been published in IRRODL with second published in The Internet and Higher Education and a third published in IRRODL in late 2016. A practitioner focused paper: Designing MOOCs for Professional learners: tools and patterns to encourage self-regulated learning was published in eLearning Papers in 2015. We also looked at a Coursera MOOC entitled ‘Introduction to Data Science’. Two papers from that study have been published, one highlighting the importance of context (published in Computers & Education), and a second qualitative study (published in The Internet & Higher Education) exploring the self-regulated learning of these MOOC participants.
  • Our work on MOOCs began with SRL-MOOC, a study that explored the learning practices of learners in connectivist massive open online courses. See a blog post (and another) about this, and a presentation at EARLI. The study was one of the very first to explore MOOC learning and generated a widely cited paper available online from JOLT: Patterns of engagement in connectivist MOOCs.
  •  My research has grown out of my expertise on technology enhance learning and while my focus has now moved on from technology, I still retain an interest in how technology might support learning in the workplace and what these tools might look like. One area we have explored is Charting: lightweight tools that can support goal-setting and goal directed learning. See this 2013 presentation on my figshare site and and an attempt to link the ideas of charting to the robust concepts of self-regulated learning in this conceptual paper discussing workplace learning in informal networks in the Open Access journal JIME.

I am a member of the Editorial Board for The Internet & Higher Education.

In the last couple of years I have reviewed papers for a range of journals including: British Journal of Educational Technology, Computers & Education,  Vocations & Learning, The Internet & Higher Education, Psychology Learning & Teaching, The International Review of Research in Open & Distributed Learning, Journal of Computing in Higher Education, Journal of Workplace Learning, International Journal of Training and Development, Learning Media and Technology, The  Canadian Journal of Learning &Teaching, and Transactions on Learning Technologies. I have also recently reviewed submissions for the European Association for Research in Learning and Instruction and Networked Learning Conferences, the European MOOC Stakeholders Summit and have previously reviewed grant proposals for the British Council.


My first PhD student, Elena Golovushkina completed her studies in January 2013 successfully defending her thesis entitled: Employability development in the context of PhD studies: Exploring the views and experiences of key stakeholders. Elena and I published papers in IJRD and IJTD reporting the results of the research. Elena is now working in Argentina.


My Background

I initially trained as a researcher in Genetics/Molecular Biology: my doctorate centered on developing a method for site selected mutagenesis using the I-factor retrotransposon and differential cloning of cDNAs expressed in the head (but not the eyes) of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. I have worked in the area of learning and development since the summer of 1993 when I was first employed to prepare distance learning materials for University of Paisley courses being marketed in Hong Kong. During my career, I have undertaken a variety of roles in Further and Higher Education at various institutions in central Scotland, as well as working in the commercial sector and as a Partner in a small consultancy. These diverse roles have given me a broad range of experience in all aspects of learning and development, particularly where technology can support and enhance the learning process and empower the learner to take greater control of their learning.

I returned to a predominantly research based role as a Research Fellow at the Caledonian Academy within Glasgow Caledonian University in 2007. Working in learning and development has instilled in me the belief that research should both advance knowledge and inform practice.

Some of my previous (often more development oriented) work has involved:

  • developing and running some of the first online courses in the world while with TALiSMAN at Heriot-Watt University (1997).
  • describing the emerging concepts of the Virtual Learning Environment and working on other projects promoting the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning at ICBL at Heriot-Watt University.
  • Contributing to the LTDI Evaluation Cookbook while at Heriot-Watt University.
  • designing and creating learning content which stimulates the learner, demanding their active engagement and empowering the teacher and learner to become more active in the learning process (work on simulations and assessment with MultiVerse and JeLSIM),
  • exploring and considering the role of standards in supporting the adoption of best practice learning content management and Learning Design (the ReLOAD project, whilst with CETIS, at the University of Strathclyde).
  • Evaluating the impact of online learning courses from NHS Health Scotland while a partner in the JeLSIM consultancy.
  • conceptualising learning environments which are centred on the needs of the individual learner rather than restricted by limitations imposed by the structures of the institution (describing the concept of the ‘Personal Learning Environment’ also with CETIS at the University of Strathclyde, working closely with Oleg Liber, Scott Wilson and Bill Olivier in Bolton).
  • project managing the JISC-funded CD-LOR project, examining the barriers and mechanisms for sharing learning content (again at the University of Strathclyde, in CAPLE).
  • unpacking the complex relationship of paper-based and computer assisted assessment, and going beyond multiple choice tests in electronic assessment, with SCROLLA, back at Heriot-Watt University.
  • examining the role of technology in supporting formative assessment practices which enhance and scaffold learning with Professor David Nicol.
  • developing an SQA course on ‘Principles and Practice of eAssessment‘ with Ruth Thomas at JeLSIM.

Some of my other work is described on my experience page.

When I am not at work, I am lucky to live in the beautifulStirlingshirecountryside.

 colin.milligan@gcu.ac.uk – +44 141 331 8495
B124 Britannia Building, Glasgow Caledonian University
Glasgow G4 0BA, Scotland, UK

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