The tourism learning network (TLN) initiative was developed by Fáilte Ireland as a key component of the tourism board’s current five year strategy (Human Resource Development Strategy 2005:2010). The initiative has achieved national coverage, with all learning networks now engaged in their third year of operation. Although internal evaluation of each TLN has been provided for, a more holistic assessment of the TLN initiative had not been addressed, that is, the modelling of ‘best practice’ for the development and sustainability of a successful TLN. A review of the literature highlights that the literature on learning networks is in its infancy, particularly in the context of tourism; furthermore knowledge regarding ‘best practice’ is also lacking. Most previous studies are qualitative in nature and focussed on organisational learning, whereas, this study focuses on learning at an individual level. By determining a means of measuring the individual level learning, this study provides insights into the process and content of learning network evaluation, thereby contributing to academic knowledge as it represents an area of research which has received little attention. Furthermore, the study contributes to the substantive knowledge by empirically identifying the key practices that will enhance learning in a learning network context. Following a review of the literature from the learning and network fields, a conceptual framework was formed to guide the evaluation. In keeping with the underlying social situational school perspective, the framework highlights that: (1) the influence of peer interaction, flexible learning approach, facilitation, and individual characteristics are major determinants of learning, and (2) that selfdevelopment, knowledge, skills and managerial capabilities are key measurable learning outcomes. The deterministic focus of the research lent itself to a nomothetic approach; hence, the data was collected via a postal survey sent to all the participants of the 2008 TLN initiative nationwide. The survey received a 55% response rate. Small group sizes, however, severely restricted the scope for comparative data analysis across the six TLN regions. Therefore, the comparative data analysis was conducted on a split between those participants whose TLN was facilitated by an academic institution and those whose facilitation was consultancy-backed. The key findings of the research indicated that individual characteristics, the flexible learning approach and the facilitation climate were the major determinants of learning in the TLN. In addition, significant differences were discovered between the two types of facilitator, in terms of their participants’ motivation, the peer interaction and the perceptions of the delivery methods. In contrast, the levels of learning, content and facilitation (climate and learner involvement) were not significantly different. The findings further indicated that while the participants reported learning from the initiative, thus meeting Fáilte Ireland’s strategic learning aims, the participants’ levels of learning could be considerably improved. The thesis concluded with the development of a ‘best practice’ model for future initiatives.
|Submitted - 2009