Using visual metaphors to enhance the learning experience of international postgraduate management students at a university in England
: a pedagogical action research study

  • Richard Cotterill

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Lectures are a ubiquitous feature of higher education pedagogy. The cognitive demands associated with lectures can be immense for international students who are not operating in their first language. The high volume of unfamiliar and abstract concepts that lectures typically contain can make learning difficult. International students are extremely valuable to UK universities and the UK economy; their pedagogical needs deserve better attention. Existing literature asserts that metaphors are a powerful way to communicate complex or abstract concepts in a clear and compressed way. However, the potential contribution that visual metaphors can make to learning has not been fully investigated. This thesis explores how visual metaphors can be used in lectures delivered to international postgraduate management students to communicate meaning and enhance the learning experience. The researcher, a lecturer in a Russell Group university, worked with his international postgraduate students using a pedagogical action research methodology to better understand why certain visual metaphors enhance students’ learning while others do not, an understanding absent from the existing literature. Over the four cycles of the research, a range of data collection methods were used, the most useful of which were metaphor elicitation and process interviews. The development of process interviews, an innovative data collection method, helped to overcome the metacognitive obstacles encountered when participants discuss their own learning. The large quantity of data generated through process interviews was analysed using thematic analysis. This study's principal contribution to knowledge is a model that summarises the eight most important facets of powerful visual metaphors. When visual metaphors are selected for incorporation into lectures with the assistance of the model, they are more likely to have a positive impact on the learning experience. The model has resonated with and been validated by practitioners from a range of contexts and can be used to enhance the quality and accessibility of teaching in situations where learners encounter abstract concepts for the first time or are processing meaning in a second language.
Date of Award27 Feb 2024
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDavid Powell (Main Supervisor) & Andrew Youde (Co-Supervisor)

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