E-learning theory describes the cognitive science principles of effective multimedia educational technology use in e-learning. Cognitive research and theory suggest that selection of appropriate concurrent multimedia modalities may enhance learning, as may application of several other principles.
Richard E. Mayer's "modality principle" states that if materials contain both verbal and graphical information, the verbal information should be given in auditory format only, and not as written text as well.
Theoretically, the modality principle is based on a model of working memory by Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch who proposed that working memory has two largely independent sub-components that tend to work in parallel - one visual and one verbal/acoustic. This gave rise to dual-coding theory, first proposed by Allan Paivio and later applied to multimedia by Richard Mayer. According to Mayer, separate channels of working memory process auditory and visual information. Consequently, a learner can use more cognitive processing capacities to study materials that combine auditory verbal information with visual graphical information than to process materials that combine printed (visual) text with visual graphical information. In other words, the multi modal materials reduce the cognitive load imposed on working memory.
In a series of studies Mayer and his colleagues tested Paivio’s dual-coding theory, with multimedia. They repeatedly found that students learning given multimedia with animation and narration consistently did better on transfer questions than those who learn from animation and text-based materials. That is, they were significantly better when it came to applying what they had learned after receiving multimedia rather than mono-media (visual only) instruction. These results were then later confirmed by other groups of researchers.
The initial studies of multimedia learning were limited to logical scientific processes that centered on cause-and-effect systems like automobile braking systems, how a bicycle pump works, or cloud formation. However, subsequent investigations found that the modality effect extended to other areas of learning.
Split attention effect Mayer found that "Students learn better from animation and narration than from animation, narration, and on-screen text."
Thus, it is better to eliminate redundant material. Learners do not learn as well when they both hear and see the same verbal message during a presentation. This is a special case of the split attention effect of Sweller and Chandler.
Learning is enhanced when related components such as words and pictures are presented in "spatial contiguity", referring to the components being physically close to each other on the page or screen, rather than being separated. Similarly, "temporal contiguity" refers to simultaneous presentation of corresponding words and pictures, rather than successive delivery. Learning is more effective when extraneous material is excluded rather than included, which Meyer termed, "coherence". The effects of improved design have more benefit for low-knowledge than high knowledge learners, and for high-spatial than for low-spatial learners.
Such principles may not apply outside of laboratory conditions. For example, Muller found that adding approximately 50% additional extraneous but interesting material did not result in any significant difference in learner performance. There is ongoing debate concerning the mechanisms underlying these beneficial principles, and on what boundary conditions may apply.
Good pedagogical practice has a theory of learning at its core. However, no single best-practice e-learning standard has emerged, and may be unlikely given the range of learning and teaching styles, the potential ways technology can be implemented and the ways in which educational technology itself is changing. Various pedagogical approaches or learning theories may be considered in designing and interacting with e-learning programs.
Social-constructivist – this pedagogy is particularly well afforded by the use of discussion forums, blogs, wiki and on-line collaborative activities. It is a collaborative approach that opens educational content creation to a wider group including the students themselves. The One Laptop Per Child Foundation attempted to use a constructivist approach in its project.
Cognitive perspective focuses on the cognitive processes involved in learning as well as how the brain works.
Emotional perspective focuses on the emotional aspects of learning, like motivation, engagement, fun, etc.
Behavioural perspective focuses on the skills and behavioural outcomes of the learning process. Role-playing and application to on-the-job settings.
Contextual perspective focuses on the environmental and social aspects which can stimulate learning. Interaction with other people, collaborative discovery and the importance of peer support as well as pressure.
Mode Neutral Convergence or promotion of ‘transmodal’ learning where online and classroom learners can coexist within one learning environment thus encouraging interconnectivity and the harnessing of collective intelligence.
For many theorists it’s the interaction between student and teacher and student and student in the online environment that enhances learning (Mayes and de Freitas 2004). Pask’s theory that learning occurs through conversations about a subject which in turn helps to make knowledge explicit has an obvious application to learning within a VLE.
Salmon developed a five stage model of e-learning and e-moderating that for some time has had a major influence where online courses and online discussion forums have been used. In her five stage model individual access and the ability of students to use the technology are the first step to involvement and achievement. The second step involves students creating an identity online and finding others with whom to interact; online socialisation is a critical element of the e-learning process in this model. In step 3 students are giving and sharing information relevant to the course to each other. Collaborative interaction amongst students is central to step 4. The fifth step in Salmon’s model involves students looking for benefits from the system and using resources from outside of it to deepen their learning. Throughout all of this the tutor/teacher/lecturer fulfills the role of moderator or e-moderator, acting as a facilitator of student learning.
Some criticism is now beginning to emerge. Her model does not easily transfer to other contexts (she developed it with experience from an Open University distance learning course). It ignores the variety of learning approaches that are possible within computer mediated communication (CMC) and the range of learning theories that are available (Moule 2007).
Self-regulated learning refers to several concepts that play major roles in learning, and which have significant relevance in e-learning. Zimmerman (1998) explains that in order to develop self-regulation, learning courses should offer opportunities for students to practice strategies and skills by themselves. Self-regulation is also strongly related to a student's social sources such as parents and teachers. Moreover, Steinberg (1996) found that high-achieving students usually have high-expectation parents who monitor their children closely.
With the academic environment, self-regulated learners usually set their academic goals and monitor and react themselves in process in order to achieve their goals.Schunk argues, "students must regulate not only their actions but also their underlying achievement-related cognitions, beliefs, intentions and affects"(p. 359). Moreover, academic self-regulation also helps students develop confidence in their ability to perform well in e-learning courses.
Teacher use of technology
Computing technology was not created by teachers. There has been little consultation between those who promote its use in schools and those who teach with it. Decisions to purchase technology for education are very often political decisions. Most staff using these technologies did not grow up with them. Training teachers to use computer technology did improve their confidence in its use, but there was considerable dissatisfaction with training content and style of delivery. The communication element in particular was highlighted as the least satisfactory part of the training, by which many teachers meant the use of a VLE and discussion forums to deliver online training (Leask 2002). Technical support for online learning, lack of access to hardware, poor monitoring of teacher progress and a lack of support by online tutors were just some of the issues raised by the asynchronous online delivery of training (Davies 2004). They are also likely to be more constructivist-oriented in their approach to learning.
Newer generation web 2.0 services provide customizable, inexpensive platforms for authoring and disseminating multimedia-rich e-learning courses, and do not need specialised information technology (IT) support.
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