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Self-Regulated Leaning Skills for Students Online: What are they and how are they measured?

Online learning asks more of students than traditional classroom settings. The classroom brings students and instructors together in a common room and time enabling direct communication and direction from the instructor. The students can be passive in that once they are in class, the information is delivered. Online students must be proactive in bringing themselves to the lessons and recognizing that they are entirely responsible for their success.

Hung et al. (2010) described five personal skills of successful online students. Self-directed learning is a measure of a student’s ability to establish personal goals, identify the necessary resources, schedule their work, and in general, take personal responsibility. Motivation for learning includes intrinsic characteristics like personal interest or curiosity, and extrinsic motivations to receive rewards. Learner control refers to the inherent flexibility of asynchronous online learning where students can choose specific activities, the time spent on activities, or the activity sequence. Computer and Internet self‑efficacy measures the ability to use the Internet to accomplish tasks rather than just technical ability. Online communication self‑efficacy is the ability to effectively use the technology to participate in intellectual discourse with classmates and instructors.

Yang and Park (2011) described a study in which the instructional design embedded self‑directed learning skills and communication self‑efficacy skills into an online class. They reported that based on post course surveys, students’ ability in self‑directed learning skills improved but not so for communication self‑efficacy skills. They postulate that these students may not value peer interactions as an important aspect of individual performance.

Higher education institutions try to alert students to the demands of online learning through documents or websites describing the skills of online learners, and by surveys that ask students directly or indirectly about these skills. Both of these methods are common but have limited success. Poorly designed surveys may not ask the right questions of fully impress upon students the importance for self‑regulated learning skills (Hall, 2008). Indiana University offers students white paper describing personal, academic, and technical skill needed to succeed online but again (Alford & Lawson, 2009) but these need to be read and fully understood by students to make a difference.

Given that many students will enter online classes unprepared, researchers attempt to understand student learning in courses through surveys and interviews. Usually these surveys are given before or after the class, and therefore miss the details of student progress through specific lessons (Winne, 2012). A properly designed computer based learning environment can trace student activity and infer the decision process through the lesson. In this way, instructors can assess both what the student learned, and how the student learned it. This can lead to better instructional design tools that help students adopt the skills of self‑regulated learners.

 

Works Cited

Alford, P, & Lawson, A. (2009). Distance Education Student Primer: Skills for Being a Successful Online Learner. Indiana University. Retrieved June 30, 2012 from http://ittraining.iu.edu/free/DESPR.pdf

Michael Hall. (2008). Predicting Student Performance in Web-Based Distance Education Courses Based on Survey Instruments Measuring Personality Traits and Technical Skills. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 11(3). Retrieved from http://www.westga.edu/%7Edistance/ojdla/fall113/hall113.html

Hung, M.-L., Chou, C., Chen, C.-H., & Own, Z.-Y. (2010). Learner readiness for online learning: Scale development and student perceptions. Computers & Education, 55(3), 1080–1090. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2010.05.004

Winne, P. H. (2010). Improving Measurements of Self-Regulated Learning. Educational Psychologist, 45(4), 267–276. doi:Article

Yang, Y.-C., & Park, E. (2011). Applying Strategies of Self-Regulation and Self-Efficacy to the Design and Evaluation of Online Learning Programs. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 40(3), 323–335. doi:Article

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Summary of “Learner Readiness for Online Learning: Scale Development and Student Perceptions: by Hung, Chou, Chen, and Own.

Hung, Chow, Chen, and Own conducted a study of student readiness for online learning by measuring students’ perceptions of their ability for “self-directed learning, motivation for learning, computer/Internet self‑efficacy, learner control, and online communication self‑efficacy.” The study included 1051 Taiwanese college students and found that these students considered themselves prepared in motivation for learning, computer/Internet, and online communication self-efficacy, but were less prepared in self-directed learning and learner control.

The need for this research was based on recognizing the fundamental differences between online learning and traditional classrooms. Students working online need to assume a greater responsibility for their learning in that they must actively seek out the assignments online, manage their work time effectively, participate in online activities, and make meaningful contributions to the work. Their study was designed to measure students’ perceptions in each of the five dimensions in order to find if such a study is statistically valid, identify students’ readiness for online learning, and if there are differences by class year or gender.

The authors conducted a literature search to identify the five dimensions addressed in this study. Self-directed learning is a measure of a student’s ability to establish personal goals, identify the necessary resources, schedule their work, and in general, take personal responsibility. Motivation for learning includes intrinsic characteristics like personal interest or curiosity, and extrinsic motivations to receive rewards. Learner control refers to the inherent flexibility of asynchronous online learning where students can choose specific activities, the time spent on activities, or the activity sequence. Computer and Internet self‑efficacy measures the ability to use the Internet to accomplish tasks rather than just technical ability. Online communication self‑efficacy is the ability to effectively use the technology to participate in intellectual discourse with classmates and instructors.

The study used a twenty-six question instrument where each question addressed one of the five dimensions and students responded using a five-point Likert scale. The questionnaire was given to students in one of five online classes in chemistry, calculus, statistics, ecology, and environmental science at three different universities in the middle of the term. The analysis of the results compared student responses by gender, and class year.

The authors first evaluated the results to determine the validity of the responses and concluded that the student responses were statistically significant and therefore represent their perceptions of online learning readiness and their recognition that this is important for online success. Based on student responses, the authors conclude that students see themselves as well prepared in computer/Internet self‑efficacy, motivation for learning, and online communication self‑efficacy, but less prepared in learner control or self‑directed learning. This latter finding indicates the importance of teaching students good time management skills for ordering and planning the necessary tasks. The study found no differences due to gender but did find that older, more mature students generally ranked higher in learner control and self‑directed learning.

The implication of this study is that instructors of lower level classes need to recognize that their students may lack the personal skills to succeed. The instructor can then provide clear information, developmental activities, and feedback to help these students mature.

Finally, this study measured only the students own perceptions of their readiness for online learning and did not correlate these findings with a measure of success in the course. In their conclusion, the authors suggest further study to determine if this instrument can predict student performance.

Hung, M.-L., Chou, C., Chen, C.-H., & Own, Z.-Y. (2010). Learner readiness for online learning: Scale development and student perceptions. Computers & Education, 55(3), 1080–1090. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2010.05.004

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Summary of “Factors Associated with Student Persistence in an Online Program of Study: A Review of the Literature” by Carolyn Hart

Carolyn Hart’s article is a literature review of recent peer reviewed journal articles describing factors that enable higher education students to successfully complete an online course. Hart’s review included thirty-seven articles describing student qualities promoting persistence defined as “the ability to complete an online course despite obstacles or adverse circumstances.”

Factors promoting persistence begin with adult students who need and can effectively take advantage of the flexible schedules of online learning. These students must also have good study skills in order to efficiently plan time dedicated to school, family, and jobs. These students often have specific educational or career goals that make their school work relevant and important. They are likely to be self-motivated and willing to challenge themselves. This confidence leads to more personal involvement in class discussions, a willingness to ask questions, and the perseverance to solve problems.

Class standing and college status also correlate with persistence. Students nearer degree completion are more likely to complete online instruction. Presumably, students less likely to persist withdrew earlier in their education. Persistent students often have high grade point averages indicating strong academic skills and a will to succeed.

External factors enabling persistence include student satisfaction in the program or course quality and when the student finds it relevant to overall goals. These students value interactions or relationships with instructors and classmates providing meaningful feedback and support. This indicates that successful students are in fact often social learners rather than the solitary learners. Finally, external support may come from family, friends, employers, and coworkers who provide encouragement and assistance during challenging times.

Barriers to persistence can result from particular learning style preferences. In particular, students preferring auditory learning may not succeed online where extensive reading is required. The corollary to this is that online success requires strong literacy skills. Clearly online learners need relatively strong computer skills and have access to computers and the Internet. Some students may overestimate their ability or may become discouraged if preliminary attempts to work online are not successful. This can also lead to a sense of isolation and to overall dissatisfaction with the course.

Hart acknowledges that the definition of persistence is broad and factors leading to student completion of online studies are many and varied. Still, she hypothesizes that cognizance of these factors by faculty, staff, and students can lead to specific interventions when students are struggling.  She concludes with a call for additional research leading to evidence based methods for identifying attributes promoting persistence and ways to foster those attributes in classes and students.

Hart, C. (2012). Factors Associated With Student Persistence in an Online Program of Study: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 11(1), 19–42. doi:Article

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Summary of a Research Report by Kristen Murphy, John Picione, and Thomas Holme on the Effectiveness of Small Group Constructivist Learning in Preparatory Chemistry

Background

Murphy, Picione, and Holme (2010) employed action research to test small group constructivist learning in preparatory chemistry classes using Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL). The POGIL method presents each small group of four students a model that describes or illustrates the concepts of a topic. The model is followed by a series of critical thinking questions designed help students examine the model’s text or illustrations and construct their own understanding of the concepts. Once the concepts are identified, the exercise continues with application problems using the concepts. Students are encouraged to work together and are often assigned roles of manager, recorder, and spokesperson. Instructors may assign groups or allow students to self‑select. POGIL sessions are about twenty minutes in duration and are often followed by a full class discussion or informal assessment. More information about POGIL is available at pogil.org.

Method

The authors tested POGIL’s effectiveness in three sections of preparatory chemistry classes of approximately 80 to 120 students. One section used POGIL activities for all of the semester’s content, a second section used POGIL for about one-third of the content, and the third section was the control group taught through traditional lecture. At the beginning of the each semester, all students were tested for competency in mathematics and the authors discovered statistically significant differences among the three sections. Since mathematics ability is recognized as a determining factor in success, these results were used to normalize the chemistry exam scores across sections as the semester progressed.

Results

The results of the first two chemistry examinations were surprising and indicated that the control section outperformed the two POGIL sections. The authors modified the POGIL implementation for the remainder of the semester by giving minilectures before each exercise thereby eliminating the need for students to read the POGIL materials. This modification improved the POGIL sections exam performance over the remainder of the semester. In the spring semester, the authors continued the  minilecture modification for the POGIL sections and this time the full POGIL section scored higher than the other two sections. Surprisingly, the partial POGIL section had the lowest performance, which the authors attributed to excessive student absences.

Conclusion

The authors conclude that POGIL, modified with mini-lectures, provides an incremental improvement of student learning in preparatory chemistry when compared with traditional lecture classes.

Commentary

I also use POGIL activities for teaching introductory and general chemistry and my experience is similar to the findings in this paper. I believe that POGIL can be an effective method for helping students construct their own understanding of the concepts. The most interesting point in this paper was the necessity of eliminating the reading component of the exercises suggesting that many students in preparatory classes lack sufficient literacy skills to succeed in science or perhaps in college. In place of the reading, the authors implemented minilectures and simplified the exercises by incorporating smaller steps with partial solutions. Here again, I can confirm the authors findings that there are students who either cannot, or will not read and study the models carefully. Since the authors’ objective was to measure the effectiveness of POGIL for learning chemistry rather than assessing literacy, they modified the exercises to eliminate reading. As educators, we should also ask how we can help students improve their literacy skills so that they are better prepared for any subject.

Murphy, K. L., Picione, J., & Holme, T. A. (2010). Data-Driven Implementation and Adaptation of New Teaching Methodologies. Journal of College Science Teaching, 40(2), 80–86. doi:Article

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Summary of “Distance Learning, Past, Present, and Future” by Brown and Lease (2009)

Key Concepts:

  • Distance education began in the nineteenth century with correspondence courses.
  • Educations delivery methods adopted new communication methods as became available and were cost-effective.
  • Distance education expanded greatly with the availability of the Internet for exchanging course content and student work.
  • Opportunities for distance education attracted non-traditional, older, and students with full-time employment or transportation limitations.
  • Institutions recognize that distance learning provides opportunities to attract more students and has increased competition among institutions to enroll these students.

This article surveyed past publications on distance learning to provide a context for understanding the roots of distance education technology, the types of distance education technologies used today, and the implications of distance learning for education institutions in the future.

Distance learning is not new. Rather it began with correspondence courses offered in the nineteenth century and since that time has incorporated technological delivery systems as they became available. The earliest correspondence course was Isaac Pitman’s shorthand system and utilized the postal system for delivery. Lessons were provided and assignments returned in the mail. This method was used extensively into the twenty-first century. (I took a printed paper distance learning biology class from the University of Minnesota in 2003.) Early higher education offerings began with degree offerings from Illinois Wesleyan University beginning in 1873.Other institutions and commercial education companies adopted printed correspondence courses. In the first half of the twentieth century, the poor quality of some courses led to the establishment of the Distance Education and Training Council in 1926.

Radio delivery of courses was little used until after World War II and the development of magnetic tape recording. Telephony was also ineffective until the advent of teleconferencing in the 1950’s.

Television began broadcasting courses in the 1950’s from Iowa State University. The Ford Foundation provided funding for educational television leading to the creation of Chicago TV College and the offering of an accredited two-year degree program. Television offerings grew in the 1960’s after Educational Broadcasting Facilities Act provided funding for educational television.

Video conferencing technology brought effective interactive education to distance learning. Video conferencing was used by many educational institutions but was expensive to operate.

Computers and other personal computing devices coupled with the growth of the Internet has led to a consolidation of delivery methods. By the early 2000’s, the Internet became the preferred method of course delivery.

Distance education enabled more people access to education especially working adults needing to balance school, work, and families. Older adults and adults with transportation constraints also participate in distance education. These adults may also use distance education for professional development. Many companies partner with academic institutions to provide specific courses for their employees.

A study of 103 public education institutions in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee found that 67 institutions offered distance education including diploma or certificate programs. At the time of this study in about 2006, the offerings used a variety of methods but the trend was increased used of the Internet. This shift is due to the cost effectiveness and flexibility of Internet websites when compared with manufactured paper, audio, or video media.

Institution competition for students is also driving the trend toward distance education. Institutions are no longer tied to a specific location so administrators are concerned about maintaining enrollment in an environment where all institutions are equally accessible to students. This leads to the development of very specific programs that meet specific educational needs enabling institutions to offer courses optimized for specific student populations.

Distance education continues to grow with the availability of delivery technology. Most institutions currently offer distance learning courses and plan to offer more. Other institutions without distance learning courses plan to implement them very soon.

Brown, T. A., & Lease, A. J. (2009). Distance learning past, present and future. International Journal of Instructional Media, 36(4), 415+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA273280251&v=2.1&u=mnacenturycl&it=r&p=PROF&sw=w

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