Learning Motivation and Long-Term Retention Through the use of Web-Based Learning Frameworks and Methodologies
Creating a strong catalyst of continual learning often requires educators to move beyond the constraints of existing teaching frameworks to embrace entirely new ones. The long-held assumptions regarding didactic, highly repetitive teaching styles are being more openly questioned as the integration of in-class and Web-based instruction shows greater potential that traditional teaching strategies, especially in the areas of conceptual learning involved in math and science (Green, Gentemann, 2001). The pervasive adoption of the Internet as a communications and collaboration medium has led to this medium being engrained into many facets of student’s, parents, teacher’s and school administrators’ daily lives. The progression of teaching platforms continues to accelerate, with Internet-based learning showing the potential to provide students with a more customized, tailored experience to their specific needs. The concept of tailoring in-class learning with online instruction and tutorials is providing instructors with the ability to tailor individualized learning programs to the specific needs of students. The learning strategy that encompasses these areas of learning theory is called scaffolding, or the supporting of online and offline student learning styles with the specific learning plans designed to address their unique strengths and weaknesses (Najjar, 2008).
Contrary to learning theories and frameworks that have as their impetus or catalyst technology, scaffolding and the advanced forms of Web-based learning (WBL) are predicated on the concepts of creating a foundation that enables long-term learning through transformational leadership in the classroom. Instead of relying on technology as a means to create a given educational platform and creating a myriad of programs to get students online to adopt it, the combining of scaffolding and WBL techniques look to infuse a strong sense of learning autonomy, mastery of the programs, and purpose in learning materials (Greenwood, Horton, Utley, 2002. These three core concepts of autonomy, mastery and purpose are the anchor points of successful long-term learning programs (Ahlfeldt, Mehta, Sellnow, 2005). By designing scaffolding or individualized learning programs in conjunction with autonomy, mastery and purpose, the more complex, abstract concepts of mathematics, science and physics can be more effectively mastered by students over time. The design of courses in these more abstract, complex areas of study are most effective when they provide students with a high degree of control over the online learning experience, specifically concentrating on replication of content and lessons over time (Greenwood, Horton, Utley, 2002). Studies indicate that students gain a greater sense of autonomy and mastery over complex subjects when online learning platforms and systems allow them to continually review and iterate key steps in complex learning areas. The greater the level of interactivity of learning tools that can both be customized by the instructor to provide scaffolding or individualized learning programs, the greater the motivation to improve and see improvement in individualized scores (Najjar, 2008). The extent to which these scores are kept confidential between the student and instructor, the degree of customization of the online learning environment have a direct effect on the adoption and continual use of the learning tools (Basile, D’Aquila, 2002). This relates back to the concepts of autonomy and mastery, where online learning tools that provide students with an opportunity to take control of and manage their online environment effectively can lead to significant gains in long-term learning and retention of complex concepts (Sherif, Khan, 2005).
Nurturing and continually reinforcing a learning culture of autonomy, mastery and purpose is being accomplished through the use of both online-only and hybrid in-class and online classes, with the latter showing the greatest potential in courses that had been taught with inflexible pedantic structures in the past. The use of scaffolding strategies in the context of hybrid course structures has shown potential for providing student with greater autonomy and agility in defining their own learning environments online (Green, Gentemann, 2001). The instructor becomes a facilitator and partner to learning in these scenarios, and also defines the scaffolding strategies for each student as well (Najjar, 2008).
The overarching framework used to integrate these concepts of scaffolding, hybrid course design and the core values of autonomy, mastery and purpose together is often the Web-Based Learning (WBL) framework, created by Dr. Badrul Khan (Khan, 2003). Dr. Khan’s WBL Framework is extensively used throughout academic and commercial applications of Web-based learning strategies. What makes this specific framework noteworthy above a myriad of others is how effectively, and pragmatically it places the student at the center of the learning strategies programs and experience (Khan, 1997). The overarching goal of the WBL Framework is to create a highly cohesive network to support student’s specific learning styles, strengths, and pace of comprehension over time. Its eight dimensions are deliberately designed ot orchestrate the many types of learning needs students have and give instructors the ability to customize learning strategies for students. The eight dimensions of the model include audience analysis, content analysis, goal analysis, medium and design analysis, organization and methods and strategies for attaining long-term learning goals and objectives (Khan, 1997). Taken together these eight factors lead to a flexible learning platform that can support individualized, highly tailored learning strategies (Najjar, 2008).
2. Theory and Practice
Studies showing the reliance on a hybrid learning strategy of combining on-class and online instruction is more effective than traditional in-class alone. This is because the traditional didactic approaches to requiring rote memorization often deprive students with greater insights into how complex concepts are interrelated with one another (Greenwood, Horton, Utley, 2002). Clearly the era of didactic teaching is waning as advanced use of online collaboration and communication tools are teaching students how to better combine their unique strengths to turn their class projects into a long-term learning experience (Beard, 2002). This is especially the case in a study of 151 students enrolled in a traditional class and 49 enrolled in the same course online., the online course had lectures on electronic bulletin boards, a portal and also available via CD-ROM and on shared network drives. The online discussion rooms could be reserved and used whenever students needed them, and also provided for virtual blackboards for real-time information sharing (Navarro, Shoemaker, 2000). The results showed that students were more effective at collaborating and communicating with the online tools as many of them had time pressures that made meeting outside of class very difficult. This was one of the key factors that emerged from the analysis at a statistically significant level, yet the most compelling factor was the fact that students held each other to accountability and performance online where everyone could immediately see who was contributing or not, complete with statistics showing the most frequent contributors to the group’s success (Navarro, Shoemaker, 2000). The peer pressure within this specific study showed that each student wanted to be seen as a major contributor to the groups’ learning success and also wanted to have a “score” associated with their contribution which earned them enhanced credibility and respect with their peers in the class (Navarro, Shoemaker, 2000).
A study based on a computer programming course was completed using the WBL Framework as defined by Dr. Badrul Khan (Khan, 2003) that compared the academic performance of students who were taught with face-to-face lectures relative to those that were taught online using the WBL Framework as defined by Dr. Khan. The students who were taught online using a course design based on the WBL Framework in conjunction with scaffolding strategies for individualized learning outcomes performance better on both midterm and final exams (Navarro, Shoemaker, 2000). Scaffolding was shown to significantly improve test grades on lab programs, group or shared projects, midterms and final projects. The results also showed that online collaboration and communication increased significantly as student leaders emerged from the groups, often offering to help others with their more challenging homework assignments (Navarro, Shoemaker, 2000). This was surprising in that computer programming courses and advanced sciences classes are often highly competitive and isolated student behavior often leads to communication and project Collaboration breakdown even in entry-level courses as well. Yet the impact of a shared workspace online continually created a shared experience where students would regularly communicate using both computers at home and at school. The eight factors or components of the WBL Framework as defined by Dr. Khan had created a level of trust and transparency and dependency on de facto student leaders that otherwise would not have emerged (Navarro, Shoemaker, 2000).
3. Multiple Perspectives
There are just as many studies that indicate online learning leads to a lack of focus on the most critical areas of a course and the tendency of students to socialize instead of getting to work on their course projects. The most effective learning platforms that are built on the WBL Framework as defined by Dr. Khan have components that reflect student’s progression towards learning and can be configured to nurture and encourage students to become de facto leaders of their student teams (Khan, 1997). Dr. Khan’s work on these aspects of his framework are closely aligned with the core concepts of long-term learning including autonomy, mastery and purpose, three components shown to be critical in nurturing and growing long-term motivation (Greenwood, Horton, Utley, 2002).
In conjunction with these perspectives on how to create a highly effective online learning platform that aligns to the specific needs of students, there is a corresponding area of research that concentrates on teaching resiliency in the teaching process. The work of Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University underscores the need for leading students to continually challenge themselves to grow and have a very strong growth mindset vs. A limited on. She draws on an empirically-derived research study that shows the greater the growth mindset of even the most talented and gifted mindset, the greater the long-term performance gains they make in life (Dweck, 2006). Her book, Mindset, challenges both students and teachers to create a culture of continual focus on excellence and continual striving to improve, never taking a closed or limited mindset to improvement. It is an inspirational book and shows that there is hope for continual improvement and gains for the most challenged student and a call to continual effort and excellence for the most gifted. She also provides many examples of how the most challenged and failing students were able to transform their own academic performance with the right coaching and mindset around growth relative to limited or negative boundaries placed on performance.
4. Pedagogical Goal
In an era of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and the many other social networks there is a healthy amount of skepticism relative to the use of the Internet as a learning platform. Using advanced teaching platforms that allow for scaffolding in conjunction with shared collaboration, instructors can see the value of enabling greater communication and collaboration throughout a class. When instructors rely on positive reinforcement to underscore the need for students to help each other the entire culture and morale of a class can be transformed as well (Ahlfeldt, Mehta, Sellnow, 2005). In conjunction with the group-based learning platform, the use of scaffolding technologies is also critical to the success of students as well (Najjar, 2008). In the case of advanced mathematical and science courses these techniques have shown to be highly effective in creating a culture of continual growth and the ability to shift the mindset of students to achievement over failure (Dweck, 2006).
After proposing the use of online learning tools to a course, the response was overwhelming positive. The immediate response was that the interface of the learning platform was that it emulate Facebook in design and performance. While this is difficult to predict based on the availability of applications within the school district, it is apparent that the direction of software design encompasses usability as a very high priority. When classes were queried as to how often they would use the online tools for team projects, all said nightly. It became apparent from these discussions that Facebook and the current base of social media applications has changed how students interrelate with each other, their parents, and extracurricular organizations including school clubs, church groups, and other social programs. The integration of a learning platform into this broader base of experience can lead to a greater level of autonomy, mastery and purpose being achieved in their work (Greenwood, Horton, Utley, 2002).
6. Impact on Student Learning
Creating learning platforms that enable greater aligning of individualized lessons to the needs of students shows significant potential to increase long-term learning effectiveness (Najjar, 2008). Making these platforms as easy to use and understand while providing immediate feedback of performance in the form of gamificaiton can also lead to greater adoption. In conclusion, using online learning platforms to enable greater levels of comprehension and generate higher levels of autonomy, mastery and purpose in all subject areas shows potential in helping underperforming students to improve and high performance students ot stay challenged.
Ahlfeldt, S., Mehta, S., & Sellnow, T. (2005). Measurement and analysis of student engagement in university classes where varying levels of PBL methods of instruction are in use. Higher Education Research & Development, 24(1), 5-20.
Basile, a. & D’Aquila, J.M. (2002). An experimental analysis of computer-mediated instruction and student attitudes in a Principles of Financial Accounting course. Journal of Education for Business, 77(3), 137.
Beard, L.A. (2002). Students perceptions of online vs. campus instruction. Education, 122(4), 658.
Dutton, j. d.; Dutton, m.; Perry, j. (2002). How do Online Students Differ from Lecture Students? JALN. Vol. 6, no. 1, July.
Dweck, C (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Random House
Green, R. & Gentemann, K. (2001). Comparison of outcomes for an online and face-to-face advanced English course: Changes in attitudes, perceptions, expectations, and behaviors, presented at the Virginia Assessment Group Conference in Charlottesville, Virginia, November 2000. Retrieved February 19, 2013 from http://assessment.gmu.edu/reports/Eng302
Greenwood, C.R., Horton, B.T., & Utley, C.A. (2002). Academic engagement: Current perspectives in research and practice. School Psychology Review, 31(3), 328.
Khan, B.H. (2003, a framework for open, flexible and distributed e-learning. E-Learn Magazine, 2003, 1-1.
Khan, B.H. (Ed.). (1997). Web-based instruction. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
Najjar, M. (2008). On scaffolding adaptive teaching prompts within virtual labs. International Journal of Distance Education Technologies, 6(2), 35-54.
Navarro, P. And J. Shoemaker (2000). Performance and perception of distance learners in cyberspace. The American Journal of Distance Education 14(2): 15-35.
Sherif, J., & Khan, R. (2005). Role and relevance of web supported learning for first generation learners. Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge, 6(1), 123-129.
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