Re-useable Learning Resources for Different Learning Styles and Requirements




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University of Dublin

Trinity College


A Development Framework for

Re-useable Learning Resources for Different Learning Styles and Requirements


Catherine Bruen

A Dissertation submitted to the University of Dublin, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Master of Science in Information Technology in Education.


Declaration


I declare that the work described in this dissertation is, except where otherwise stated, entirely my own work and has not been submitted as an exercise for a degree at this or any other university.


_____________________________

Catherine Mary Bruen

20th June 2002

1Introducing the problem 5

2Introduction 37

BIBLIOGRAPHY 48

URL’s 59

Appendix A 64

Instrument for testing VARK 64

Appendix B 66

Brain Dominance Test (A. F. Gregorc) 66

Appendix C 67

Learning Style Models 67

Appendix D 68

Descriptive framework 68

Appendix E 68

A Development Framework for Re-useable Learning Resources for Different Learning Styles and Requirements


Abstract

An existing Adaptive Hypermedia System in use in Trinity College allows for student customisation of a course. However, the author has decided to examine the considerations and aspects of learning styles that could make a considerable pedagogical impact on both the narrative selection - using Gregorc’s model - and then the content selection - providing for fine grained learning - using the VARK model for learner preferences. A descriptive framework or mechanism was created against pedagogical considerations, for the metadata that would determine the three levels of adaptivity – Narrative Selection, Content Group Selection, Candidate Selection. The author set about modifying the way the information is currently modelled (the pagelets representing SQL content are created using XML) to allow for learning style specific content. The metadata was then reconciled with the current learning content. The design of the narrative model was investigated and the relevant changes were made in order to support personalized learning based on the preferred cognitive or learning styles of the students. The rules dynamically generate the navigation structure (this is the personalized process) based on the learner and content metadata, which is derived from the descriptive framework.


There is a two-tiered aim to this study: the corroboration of the premise that the design and delivery of educational technology should depend upon the pedagogic designs conceived by educators rather than depend on the characteristics of the technologies (or AHS) itself. And secondly, to explore the concepts of learning styles and their implications for the design and development of on-line distance education courses.


Through this process some underlying pertinent questions will be addressed: Do individual learning styles have an affect upon learning outcomes in Adaptive Hypermedia Systems (AHS)? What implications could this have for AHSs? And to what extent is it possible to incorporate the principles of learning style theory into the design and delivery of personalized courses using AHSs?


INTRODUCTION
  1. Introducing the problem


One of the challenges in teaching is trying to meet the needs of a variety of students. This is particularly challenging in large classes, where the typical teaching mode is heavily dependent on lectures. One way to reach students is through the use of educational software. Montgomery, when addressing Diverse Learning Styles through the Use of Multimedia examines the role of educational software and in particular multimedia based software, in meeting the needs of various learners (Montgomery, 1995).


In the majority of learning environments a generic course is presented to the learners and a “one-size-fits-all” philosophy is imposed with little or no regard for a users learning needs or preferences and pedagogical theory. If the learning theory is not taken into consideration, the lack of regard for an individual’s learning style could cause a student’s discomfort level to be great enough to hinder or prevent learning (Felder 1996).


The constructivist theory introduces the idea of how the learner is intrinsic to the learning experience. Learners construct knowledge by making sense of experiences in terms of what is already known (Brandt 1997). A learner’s objectives, pre-knowledge, and how they learn – their learning style or preference – is therefore fundamental to how the learner will retrieve and map (to their frame of knowledge) any new information presented to them. If the information is subsequently presented in a manner contradictory to learning style it must be realistic to assume that the user may not achieve his full potential.


As well as issues concerning the learner, there are financial and time considerations for the development of quality digital online learning content for the educational providers as they face a significant challenge in achieving return for investment (Marchionini, 1995). One means of optimising the return of investment is to facilitate the repurposing of learning objects across multiple related courses. Adaptive hypermedia systems (AHS) are aimed at tackling and overcoming these difficulties by customising courses to individual users despite differences in ethos, learning goals, pedagogical approach and a learners prior experience (Conlan et al, 2002).


The author intends to approach this difficulty from the position of the instructional developer, identifying and cultivating the learning styles of an SQL class, and adapting a framework that has been created by a computer engineer for personalized learning by modelling information to allow for Learning specific content. The Adaptive Hypermedia service to be adapted for learning preferences and styles is at present being successfully employed in the delivery of undergraduate degree courses at Trinity College as well as being used as part of a major EU research trial (EASEL). Although the current technical framework, for the AHS, is an open and accessible one, there are many elements that pertain to the approaches an instructional designer may take in producing components for this framework.


This project aims to create a mapping between the educational designer’s expertise and the technical implementation of adaptivity by modifying three architectural models – content, learning and narrative – so that the current AHS (Conlan et al, 2002) can use the extra knowledge provided to enhance learning.


Pedagogy over Technology

Evaluations of new educational technologies tend to concentrate on the learning outcomes of instructional delivery methods rather than the pedagogical effectiveness or differences in learning outcomes (Parson, 1998)(Russell, 1998). What is frequently forgotten is that the technology is just a medium used to attain a particular purpose; that they are a means to an end, and researchers feel strongly that those ends should be educational, not technological (Kirkwood, 1998)(Bancroft, 2001). The media is only the means of delivering instruction but it does not influence a students achievements (Clarke, 1983). (Alexander, 1999) argued that the question about the application of new technologies should not be in terms of media, the most important question should be - What is known about the way students learn via the new technology? Pedagogy should take precedent when implementing new technology (Parson, 1998). New educational technologies and Web based learning offers great potential in that there is a chance to learn from previous mistakes of previous technologies and develop new learning experiences for students that have not been possible before (Alexander, 1999). Technology, multimedia and software can go a long way in filling the gaps caused by a dichotomy of learning and teaching styles but “…whether or not the processes of teaching and learning are enhanced by the use of ICTs depends more upon the pedagogic designs devised by educators than upon the characteristics of the technologies themselves” (Kirkwood, 1998).


Future steps for educators are to evaluate how students learn via the new technologies so as to help with curriculum and instructional design (Alexander, 1999)(Parsons, 1998). The educator should then take a step further to understand how the new technologies can affect various learning styles when used by different types of learners. There is currently ongoing research into refining surveys to be able to determine with greater precision the preferences and levels of learning styles, and then continue the development of technology in answer to this research (Montgomery, 1995). As the e-learning sector grows it is essential more research be carried out in the area of learning style theory and its implications for on-line learning. Instructional designers, educators, and technologists alike need to understand how people learn so as to utilise the new information and communication technologies effectively to ensure the delivery of quality education for future generations (O’Brien, 2001).


The emphasis on meaning making has increased due to the influence of constructivist approaches to teaching, and in learning, much more emphasis is placed on personal meaning making. Students face the task of appropriating external knowledge and turning it into personal meaning. The advent of the web, coupled with constructivist views, places additional demands on students, lecturers, and the ways in which they process this particular web form of extrasomatic knowledge. The demands are pedagogical challenges and universities are showing increasing interest in pedagogy and are beginning to regard the web not as a delivery medium but as a potential teaching and learning tool (Fetherston and Cowan, 2001).


Once the focus shifts from delivery medium to pedagogical tool, we can consider pedagogical constructs that can be applied to the use of the web shifting the debate from the technical issues (Fetherson and Cowan, 2001). (Clarke, 1983) after considering fifty years of research came to the conclusion that the focus should be on the pedagogical issues and not on the media or the various attributes that are inherent to the media. Technology needs to be tempered with reference to sound pedagogical principles – we need to be reflective about the direction and nature of such change and to keep the focus on pedagogical concerns (Fetherston, 2001). Jerome Bruner said “any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development” (Bruner, 1966). Educators must be competent managers of learning experiences in order for learners to attain success. The message should be clear to the learner and the medium should convey the message with interest, accurate perception and effective learning (Blanton, 1998).


The aim of the first part of this paper is to explore the literature available on learning styles, Adaptive Hypermedia Systems (AHS), and instructional design models (see 2.1 – 3.4). The author hopes to explain the design of the artefact and explain how its design was influenced strongly by the literature reviewed. Throughout, the main thrust of findings is derived from the design, rather than the development and implementation of the project. Final implementation of this project is due to be carried out in the future on a Java course.


THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK – LEARNING STYLES


Introduction to Learning Styles

This chapter begins by attempting to define the concept of learning styles, then continues by examining learning style theory itself before moving on the explore the idea of measuring individual learning styles. The implications of learning style theory for on-line course design and delivery is also investigated.


Overview of Learning Style Theories

An individual’s personal learning style describes the way in which they habitually approach or respond learning tasks presented to them (Riding and Rayner, 1998). There are several definitions of learning style: Gregorc defines the term as “…distinctive behaviours, which serve as indicators of how a person learns from and adapts to his environment. It also gives clues as to how a person’s mind operates” (Gregorc, 1979). Honey and Mumford describe it as a term used to describe the attitudes and behaviours that determine an individual preferred way of learning (Honey, 1992). Garger and Guild describe learning styles as “…stable and pervasive characteristics of an individual, expressed through the interaction of one’s behaviour and personality as one approaches a learning task” (Garger and Guild 1984, 11). According to the taxonomy of learning styles developed by (Curry 1991), learning styles consist of a combination of motivation, engagement and cognitive processing habits. Or as another researcher defines it “…personal qualities that influence a student’s ability to acquire information, to interact with peers and the teachers, and otherwise to participate in learning experiences”. Although learning styles theory has become very popular over the years, it is far from being universally accepted as a theoretical construct. There is a glut of research on learning styles but there does not appear to be any widespread agreement upon, or acceptance for, any one particular theory to measure individual learning differences.


All learning styles research makes three assumptions: Firstly, it assumes that different people learn in different ways. Secondly, it supposes that there is a theoretical construct called learning style, which can be taken to be each person’s unique way of interacting with learning situations cognitively, affectively and physiologically. Finally, learning styles research presumes that it is actually possible to measure the various learning styles using psychometric instruments.


Educators are becoming increasingly aware that if different people learn in different ways and an individuals’ preferred learning style influences how best a learner learns and as a result some aspect of learning style theory must be considered when designing, developing and delivering instructional processes or programmes. As much as one talks about technology and how it might enhance learning, it cannot become a valuable educational tool if one do not understand, or does not take into consideration our understanding, of how the human mind works.


Different researches classify styles of learning in very different ways and there is very different terminology and labels in use and different emphasis on various learning aptitudes. It has been suggested that possible many of these labels are quite simply “…different conceptions of the same dimensions.” Research undertaken by Riding and Cheema supported this theory. When they began a systematic examination of learning style studies, they reported finding over thirty labels (Riding and Cheema, 1998). But apart from the differing terminology used by researchers, we can see a pattern emerging whereby the majority of researchers agree that there are two major categories of how we learn: firstly how perceive information most easily (modality), and secondly how we organise and process that information (Brain Dominance).


Identifying students learning styles helps educators understand how people perceive and process information in different ways. (Garger and Guild 1984) As educators are becoming increasingly aware that if different people learn in different ways and an individuals preferred learning style influences how best a learner learns and as a result some aspect of learning style theory must be considered when designing, developing and delivering instructional processes or programmes.


Because learning styles affect how successfully people learn in specific situations, educators should be sensitive to cognitive style differences (Garger and Guild, 1984). As much as one talks about technology and how it might enhance learning, it cannot become a valuable educational tool if one do not understand, or does not take into consideration our understanding, of how the human mind works. Yet, there is not an overabundance of research in the area of learning styles and the design of learning for the online medium. In fact, they tell us that little, if any has been undertaken (Diaz and Cartnal) (Loomis, 2000). Most of the studies undertaken involving learning styles focus on exploring the relationships between learning styles and specific issues such as drop rate, completion rate, attitudes about learning and predictors of high risk (Diaz and Cartnal). But, the question as to why some learners study more successfully by distance education methods than others is becoming increasingly very important as distance/on-line courses “…moves from a marginal to an integral role in the provision of post-secondary education” (Campbell Gibson). In a study related to the effects of learning styles on the achievement in a web-based course, (Day, et al., 1997) found learning styles had no effect on student achievement or attitude in web based instruction, which echoes the findings of the study on learning styles in a hypermedia environment conducted by (Liu and Reed 1994).

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