Learning Styles in the Future of Online Learning

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<p>Learning Styles in the future of online learning</p> <p>Will online learning be shaped by the learner or will it determine learners' learning styles?_________________________________________________________________________________</p> <p>01INTRODUCTIONWhen books and blackboards were first introduced into teaching, teachers discovered that learners develop seemingly innate learning patterns to adapt to these classroom technologies. Literature refers to these patterns as learning styles. As education evolved, the roles reversed from teaching materials governing learning styles, to the need of accommodating learning styles when designing teaching materials.However, recent widespread applications of computer technology and the Internet into education appear to have prompted educators back to the drawing board. Burgess (2003) stated that faculty and students have to adjust to the pedagogy that uses instructional technology as an integral component in teaching which supports the notion that once again educators are not driving the advancements but are in fact pursuing technology advancements. Thus, with Internet online learning still in its infancy, it is resourceful to predict how technology will shape online learning to better equip instructors on designing courses suitable for learners because learning can be enhanced when the instructional process accommodates the various learning styles of students (Buch and Bartley, 2002, p.5). The scope of this paper is to analytically predict how flexible online learning will become with regards to learning styles. Will the learning styles of learners evolve dramatically because of technology or will technology evolve to accommodate learning styles? Will certain learning styles be forced upon learners? Attempts in answering these questions will be supported by analysing the development of online learning at present and their effects towards learning styles. It is necessary to note that technology and tools refer to the tangible inventions of IT developers while technology trends refer to the concepts and approaches being employed in online learning.02LEARNING STYLESFederico (2000, p.367) stated that understanding {learning} styles can improve the planning, producing, and implementing of educational experiences, so they are more appropriately compatible with students' desires, in order to enhance their learning, retention, and retrieval. Such is the importance of learning styles in education that over 80 models have been extensively researched in literature. For the scope of this paper, two learning style models will be used, (1) the VAK model and (2) the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The VAK model incorporates cognitive learning styles based on stimulus and these are Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic for visual, audio and action stimuli respectively (Scheurs and Moreau, 2006, p.2-3). Currently, online learning provides ample stimuli for these areas and interestingly, the big movements in technology today are focusing on stimuli enhancements. It is therefore natural to refer to the VAK model to analyse the available web-based technologies and how future developments of them relate to learning styles.The MBTI model is described by Dewar and Whittington (2000, p.415) as an inventory used to determine personality dispositions and preferences based on Carl Jungs theory of psychological types. Carl Jung (cited in Dewar and Whittington, 2000, p.415) postulated that individuals have behavioural patterns which in turn reflect the persons preferences for taking in information and making decisions. The MBTI model is more detailed (Dewar and Whittington, 2000) than the VAK model and it is therefore used as in-depth reference for analysing online courses where learners are exposed to multiple technology and environments. The model has four psychological dimensions with each having two polar preferences. However, only the Extravert-Introvert dimension will be referred to because the scope of this paper is not to list and determine learners learning strategies but rather to determine if learner strategies are accommodated by online learning technology. Furthermore, the Extravert-Introvert polarity is prevalent in classrooms. If one dimension sufficiently reveals any disagreement between learner styles and technology trends, it therefore supports the notion of online learning not being accommodating to certain learning styles.To clarify, extravert learners focus on the outer world by interacting with people and seeking feedback whereas introvert learners focus on the inner world of ideas, feelings and thoughts. Extraverts have the tendency to act first and reflect later while introverts think first on what to act and with whom to interact (Dewar and Whittington, 2000, p.416). This Extravert-Introvert dimension will be referred throughout in both technology trends and online learning courses because it utilises polar preferences where one learning style is the opposite of the other (see Appendix 1). Hopefully, this polar structure can elucidate whether the future of online learning will accommodate both learner types of the same dimension or favours one from the other. The present technologies involved in online learning will be juxtaposed against the aforementioned learning styles.03ONLINE LEARNING AT PRESENTWhen educators started online learning, there was already a repertoire of technologies available and educators were not faced with designing courseware but rather, negotiating learner needs with the technology to produce courseware. From that point onwards, trends developed through experimentations and, more recently, collaborations with IT companies in producing online educational tools.03.1Technology Components in Online Learning03.1.1Software Tools and Platforms</p> <p>A few prominent web-based education environments such as WebCT and Blackboard have begun to mark their presence and arguable dominance. Along the periphery of web-based educational tools are online artefacts increasingly integrated in education such as Web2.0 Tools, CMC tools, Breeze and SecondLife. Interestingly, both technology representations are strongly veering towards the socio-communicative direction. </p> <p>Already these technologies being used in teaching have shown support for the extravert learner who chooses to work with others, communicates well and greets people easily while perhaps blocking out the introvert learner who chooses to work alone, and likes quiet space to work (Dewar and Whittington, 2000, pp.418-419). The socio-communicative direction may be attributed to the need of replicating classrooms and its outcome is advocated by supporters of the socio-constructivist approach.The classroom is a wonderful technology on its own because it adapts to both preferences of the same dimension. Extraverts and introverts can coexist. In contrast, the technologies mentioned work mainly in collaborative instances. Breeze, for example, requires learners to interact via video and audio, and for introverts this process may be disconcerting because introverts are quiet and shy and perform better in written work than oral presentations (Dewar and Whittington, 2000, pp.418-419). It can be argued that introverts can be lurkers but, unlike the classroom where the teacher can monitor an introvert even without that learner participating, lurking introverts in online environments are difficult to monitor or facilitate without focusing direct attention only to that learner.With regards to the VAK model, the technologies aforementioned do comply albeit in differing ranges - from the text-based WebCT that might not support stimuli based learning, to the 3D-virtual reality SecondLife that accommodates visual and auditory stimuli that mimic reality in addition to pseudo-kinaesthetic stimuli. There are technologies for both ends of the VAK spectrum but with improvements in bandwidth, sound and video quality, technologies are veering towards VAK stimulation.03.1.2Technology Trends in Teaching</p> <p>Online learning has developed several trends based on the technologies available and their affordances for learning. Two noteworthy concepts include the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and Synchronous/Asynchronous Computer Mediated Communication.</p> <p>WebCT is a widely utilised VLE and, with the Blackboard take-over, it has lived up to its claim as the top commercial VLE. However, such monopolization of the mainstream online learning domain implicates that the learning styles accommodated by WebCT are forced upon learners. WebCT is extensively text-based and VAK learners are not easily stimulated by text-based discussions.</p> <p>Synchronous and asynchronous CMCs are, at present, the only two ways of interaction in online learning. Online chat tools such as Skype, forum-boards and Breeze allow communication in varying nuances. Forum-boards are asynchronous whereby communication is not in immediate successions, while messengers such as Skype are synchronous because communication occurs in real-time. Extraverts work well with synchronous communication because they have a short attention span, eagerly attend to interruptions and readily offer opinions and share experiences (Dewar and Whittington, 2000, pp.418-419). Introverts, on the other hand, work better with asynchronous communication because they prioritise reflection by spending time in thought, before and after action and have the tendency to pause before answering, and shows discomfort with spontaneous questioning (Dewar and Whittington, 2000, pp.418-419). With regards to video and audio CMCs, introverts would again shy away from them but these tools would befit visual and auditory learners.03.1.3Hardware</p> <p>Hardware is actually quite involved in the issue of learning styles. A decade ago the second Windows operating system was introduced, and until now it has engraved its interface in many technologies from cell-phones to videogames to interactive television. Concurrently, the first home Internet modems were released. Both technologies have opened the realm of personal online learning. Learning styles have evolved alongside hardware developments from the moment when limited bandwidth and processing speed interface favoured the solitary introvert, to the present where web-cameras and podcasts favour the extravert and PDAs and interactive gadgetries indulge the kinaesthetic learner.03.2FindingsFrom the observations elaborated above, one can deduce that technology still governs decisions and designs of online learning and indirectly learning styles. Technology is moving towards the same direction that was predicted of them a decade ago (Downes, 1998) and these are interpreted as follows: Technology evolving into stimulating interfaces (visual, audio, kinaesthetic).</p> <p> Communalistic objective. The desire to connect people.</p> <p> Replicating reality if not recreating reality.Educators tend to decide on which technologies to incorporate and blend in their online learning courses based on course objectives and learner needs. Nonetheless, educators do not currently decide how technology will evolve, and as technologies tend to evolve, the online learning that is dependent on them evolves as well.Learners are also shaped by technology irrespective of them participating in any online learning. Everyday items such as cell-phones and interactive gadgets are recreating reality and embedding themselves into everyday life. Unbeknownst to learners, they bring their preferences on being comfortable with or despising interface such as interactive buttons into their online learning. Since technology is ingraining itself in society, preferences of everyday life affect a learners performance in online learning. The future is pro-technology.</p> <p>04THE FUTURE OF ONLINE LEARNING</p> <p>A survey carried out by Kim and Bonk (2006, p.26) revealed that a majority of people believed online learning will improve in quality in the future with predictions of it being more superior than traditional learning by 2013, and online learners getting better education than those in traditional learning by 2013. Online learning is indeed maturing and technologies within it would eventually become part of everyones habitual reality. Below are two predictions of future technologies in online learning:Course management systems (CMSs) would increase most drastically in the next five years (Kim and Bonk, 2006, p.25) Since CMSs like WebCT tend to be an elaborate amalgamation of tools with capabilities for each tool to evolve individually, it is difficult to predict how learner styles will be accommodated. Nevertheless, the importance of accommodating flexible means of learning is highlighted by Carmen and Haefner (2002, cited in Kim and Bonk, 2006, p.27) when they stated that CMSs should foster student choice among various activities, reflection, apprenticeship, synthesis, real-world problem solving, and rich, timely feedback. Fortunately, recent CMSs are taking heed of this importance and Dewar and Whittington (2000, p.415) revealed that introverts and extraverts participate somewhat equally in [online learning environments], although they do experience it differently but they attributed this to providing the option of using the tools as opposed to mandating its use. </p> <p>It is hoped that future CMSs would allow flexibility in order to accommodate both the extravert and the introvert or any learner styles preferred by learners.Preference to Certain Pedagogical Techniques (Kim and Bonk, 2006, p.27)(1) Online collaboration, (2) case-based learning and (3) problem-based learning are predicted to be the prevalent online instructional methods in the next decade. The introverts might shy away from the collaboration of pedagogy (1) and from the trial-and-error tasks of (2) and (3). It seems that already a pattern is developing against the introverts. At this juncture, it is best to mention that extraverts are more likely to use the Internet (Dewar and Whittington, 2000, p.47) and, with technologies and techniques further hindering introverts to practise their learning style, the introverts are being neglected.Looking at two future scenarios is enough to suggest that the introvert learning style is being weeded out and highly unfavoured. Although the Internet is an alcove for introverts who shy away from community, when online learning brings communalistic objectives into play, the introverts are left hoping for courses that might offer one-to-one consultation-type learning. The extraverts, on the other hand, rejoice at their learning traits being attended to and possibly several of the learners are converted introverts. The paper has attempted to expose how online learning does govern learning styles and at times force learners to evolve their styles, as is the case of the introverts. Unless the educators have full control of the evolving technology and trends, learning styles will most likely evolve because of technology. Perhaps in the future, the e...</p>

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