Tuesday, May 26, 2009

3.2: Designing based on learning styles for the online environment

Research by Battalio (2009) in AJDE suggests a strong link between learning styles (based on Index of Learning Styles or ILS) and success in various online education formats. The study particularly considers the different outcomes between collaborative and self-directed versions of the same communications course.

The ILS learning style model considers learner preferences across four scales, each with two extremes (active/reflective, sensing/intuitive, visual/verbal, sequential/global). of these, four extremes would prima facie appear to offer the best mix for online learning:
  • Reflective - those who prefer to think more than interact.
  • Intuitive - prefer discovery rather than facts.
  • Verbal - those who get more from words than visual presentations.
  • Global - 'big picture' rather than linear learners.

The results of the study do, in fact, demonstrate that reflective types have the advantage - but this is the case for both collaborative and self-directed course designs. Active learners perform better in collaborative courses. Sequential learners are also advantaged, particularly in self-directed courses (though a different study has found that global learners are better off).

So, what do we make of this? Well, reflective learners are clearly more suited to forms of online learning - be it collaborative or self-directed. They are very adaptable! This, no doubt, must echo other studies performed on higher education in general. While the conclusions of this paper suggest that a collaborative version of a course is preferable to giving students a preference-based choice for self-directed or collaborative, there are factors beyond student learning-style preference that ought to drive pedagogical decisions. It would be very interesting to be able to probe the differences between the self-directed and collaborative versions of the communications course itself, to get a better feel for the differences. Still, this study does indicate that self-directed instruction in isolation does not maximise a distance education experience. Collaboration in online learning can be to the advantage of all.

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