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A study of holistic thinking in an agricultural leadership development program using asynchronous computer conferencing

, University of Toronto , Canada

University of Toronto . Awarded


The primary goal of this qualitative case study was to investigate the nature of holistic thinking in the context of an asynchronous computer conference. Holistic thinking was defined as a constellation of higher-order thinking skills to include content/basic, critical, creative, and complex thinking. In addition, this study examined the utility of the Integrated Thinking Model (1989) as a conceptual framework for investigating such phenomena.

A central tenet of constructivism applied to the design of online learning environments is these ought to facilitate processes whereby learners build and integrate complex representations of knowledge into patterns that are personally meaningful. A potential outcome of these processes is a “deeper” learning, one where “the learning exchange seems to go deeper than normal, when a certain aliveness and engagement falls upon us, capturing our minds and hearts.” Facilitating the activation and use of holistic thinking in collaborative online learning environments is seen as key to the realization of this goal. For this reason, contextual factors (e.g., design of the online learning environment) and process factors (e.g., collaboration, facilitation) were seen as significant considerations worthy of investigation.

This case study examined four adult learners' experiences and interactions within a particular collaborative on-line learning environment incorporated as part of the larger context of participation in a unique Canadian agricultural leadership development program. Using the asynchronous computer conference transcripts and other data sources generated by this group, this study describes the dimensions of the presence or absence of various indices of holistic thinking as operationally defined by the Integrated Thinking Model (ITM).

Results of this study indicated that the case study participants did appear to be thinking holistically about the issues under discussion and demonstrated particular configurations of holistic thinking skills as described by the model used. Also, the conceptual framework used for this study has great utility for analyzing the presence or absence of a range of holistic thinking indicators. Potential areas of weakness include the range of thinking skills addressed by the model, resulting in a research tool that is perhaps too unwieldy for general use. Design features of the learning environment, specifically those constructivist principles embedded within the small group learning project, were thought to positively impact the demonstration of holistic skills by participants. Process factors such as the emphasis on collaboration, active peer facilitation, and effective project/information management were seen to confirm the assertion that these are important considerations in the design and delivery of online learning facilitative of holistic thinking and deep learning.


Morrison, D. A study of holistic thinking in an agricultural leadership development program using asynchronous computer conferencing. Ph.D. thesis, University of Toronto. Retrieved June 25, 2022 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

Citation reproduced with permission of ProQuest LLC.

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