Original Research

‘Community of Learning’ for African PhD students: Changing the scene of doctoral education?

Mindel van de Laar, Martin Rehm, Shivani Achrekar
Transformation in Higher Education | Vol 2 | a17 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/the.v2i0.17 | © 2017 Mindel van de Laar, Martin Rehm, Shivani Achrekar | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 November 2016 | Published: 27 July 2017

About the author(s)

Mindel van de Laar, Maastricht Graduate School of Governance, UNU- MERIT, Maastricht University, Netherlands
Martin Rehm, Learning Lab, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany
Shivani Achrekar, Maastricht Graduate School of Governance, UNU- MERIT, Maastricht University, Netherlands


African PhD fellows who are interested in completing (part of) their research in Europe cannot always afford to leave their place of residency for prolonged periods of time. Yet, young researchers from African countries might be searching for particular guidance from experts in their field that might not be accessible in their home countries. Consequently, both PhD fellows and universities and postgraduate research institutes require more flexible educational formats that cater for these circumstances. With the growing availability and potential of online tools and methodologies, it is possible to choose from a range of options for PhD education. Communities of Learning (CoL) have emerged as an approach to support the exchange of knowledge and experience among participants on the Internet. Participants can collaborate in developing research skills, while at the same time creating a feeling of belonging, which helps individuals to establish personal ties and relations. The paper introduces the research and educational project: Community for Learning for Africa (CoLA). It was designed to help participating actors from Africa and Europe to get and to stay connected online, to collaborate in joint training activities and projects, as well as to openly exchange ideas and thoughts, all in relation to underlying PhD research trajectories via the Internet. The paper offers results from a needs assessment undertaken in spring 2015, among PhD fellows and supervisors in Africa on what they would need CoLA to include, as well as template of what CoLA could include.


doctoral education; community of learning; online collaboration; needs assessment; digital technology


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