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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Can real-world problem based learning be incorporated into the online classroom?

Kane, M.  (2003).  Linking the real world to the classroom.  GLENCOE Online:  Teaching Today.

Lombardi, M. M.  (2007).  Authentic learning for the 21st century:  An overview.  EDUCAUSE Learning

InitiativeAdvancing learning through IT innovation.

Lombardi argues that “higher education has focused for too long on inculcating and assessing those cognitive skills that are relatively easy to acquire-remembering, understanding, and applying-rather than the arguably more important skills of analyzing, evaluating, and creating” (p. 8).  Much to our dismay, though, students fight this learning environment.  This should come as no surprise, though, as they have been programs by multiple choice exams and, and right and wrong answers, to seek the “right” answer and to lack an understanding of multiple avenues to different results for problem solving (Lombardi, 2007).  But, as noted by Lombardi (2007), in order “to be competitive in a global job market, today’s students must become comfortable with the complexities of ill-defines real-world problems” (p. 10).  If critical thinking skills are essential skills for our students, as educators we must model these skills for our students.  This can be done by incorporating your own practical experience into the classroom and by illustrating different modes of thinking and reasoning in the problem solving process (Kane, 2003).  Kane (2003) suggests gaining a better understanding of why students are there and what their background is in order to better serve them and to better understand what they are looking to take from the class.  This allows you as the instructor to better focus your instruction (Kane, 2003). 

As noted by Lombardi (2007), it is well documented and well understood that learning by doing is most effective.  As noted by Kane (2003), “I believe you understand it when you do it”.  Furthermore, “when the class ends, students should be able to do more than just pass the final test.  They should have gained knowledge in the subject, and they should see how that subject fits into the bigger picture”.  For years this method has been utilized in the traditional face to face classroom setting, and many would question how this form of learning could be transferred to the online classroom.  As noted by Lombardi (2007), by utilizing the online tools available to educators and engaging students in real-world issues of concern to them, educators can awaken authentic learning in their students.  Lombardi (2007) provides a comprehensive review of the latest technological advancements that make learning by doing in the online classroom a reality.  Researchers have found that authentic learning experiences contain the follow design elements:  “real-world relevance, an ill-defined problem, sustained investigation, multiple sources and perspectives, collaboration, reflection, interdisciplinary perspective, integrated assessment, polished products, and multiple interpretation and outcomes” (Lombardi, 2007, p. 3).  As colleges and universities are working to incorporate authentic learning into their classrooms, they are utilizing online tools to bring these learning opportunities to distance learners as well.  As noted by Lombardi (2007), “the value of authentic activity is not constrained to learning in real-life locations and practice, but that the benefits of authentic activity can be realized through careful design of web-based learning environments” (p. 6).  This has been done through the use of simulation-based learning, students-created media, inquiry-based learning, peer-based evaluation, working with remote instruments, working with shared research data, and the utilization of e-portfolios to document and reflect on achievements (Lombardi, 2007). 

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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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Collaborative Learning in Wikis

Changa, Y.K., (2010-2011) Collaborative learning in wikis. Education for Information 28, 291–303.

The article Collaborative Learning in Wikis looks at how students use wikis in a collaborative manner and how effective they are when used properly with group classroom assignments.  The use of wikis in classroom assignments are nearly endless and many students prefer to do group work using a wiki because they can be edited and worked on by multiple people and all parties involved can collaborate and work together.  This research looked at group dynamics and how there are five factors which will likely affect the outcome of a group project using something like a wiki. These five factors include: interpersonal and small group skills, positive interdependence, individual and group accountability, promotive interaction, and group processing.  These five factors are useful in determining success in any group project, but especially when dealing with online projects because often times the students may not know each other in online classes and therefore need to have these five things met.  This study found that of the students they surveyed in their polls, most of them responded that they had a positive experience using a wiki for their class project. Most students also reported that the use of a wiki was easy and was user friendly which would allow them to easily get their work done to complete the projects.

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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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Studying the game: Action research in science education

Every scientist has at one time or still is a researcher at heart.  Science teachers are no different.  Most of us have been trained in our science knowledge by taking the same courses as pre-med students have.  Science is science, whether you teach it in a classroom or are using it to further build your knowledge base.  The article by John Tillotson addresses the need for science teachers to remember their roots and what they were at one point and time trained to do.  Tillotson describes teachers as being uninterested in action research because many of the topics chosen would not have direct implications with what is occurring in their real classroom.  He goes further to state that by this misconception teachers feel that they have a lower professional status as someone else who may have similar training or a similar science background, because they feel that there is nothing they can do to contribute to new instructional methodology.  Science teachers should be interested in examining their own classroom practices, putting themselves under the microscope, and gather data based on their students throughout the year and formulate their own conclusions.  Tillotson describes a 5 step action research process that most of us would find very similar to the scientific method.  This alone should bring more appeal to science teachers.  After all, most of us learn best by seeing the actual outcomes and being actively involved in coming to a conclusion.  It is also recommended that there become more collaboration between university researchers and the “grunt” teachers in the secondary field who are supposed to follow along with the research and conclusions that have been handed down to them.  More collaboration would make each party feel more invested in the outcomes.  Just with every other teacher out there, science teachers just want to provide their students with the most effective and meaningful learning experiences possible and action research can be a huge asset.  Even if our methods are slightly more “nerdy” than the average teacher, we all have our students’ best interests at heart.

 

Tillotson, J. (2000). Studying the game: action research in science education. Clearing House74(1), 31-34.

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A Summary of “Science Talks” in Kindergarten Classrooms: Improving Classroom Practice Through Collaborative Action Research

Authors Meilan Zhang, et al. focused their study on  an experienced kindergarten teacher, Sarah.  Sarah joined other teachers in her professional development program to do collaborative action research with a Problem-Based Learning model.  Their goal was not only to promote student growth but Sarah’s professional learning as well.

Sarah’s research was aimed toward answering the question of how to engage kindergarten students in deep science discussion rather than just participating in activities.  She began to have regular Science Talks (discussions) with her class in which she set a comfortable atmosphere and regular routine.  She used tally sheets to record student participation and videotaped the sessions.  She also met with peers and facilitators on a regular basis to discuss research progress.

In initial discussions students just stated their ideas but with regular practice what gradually emerged was the students’ ability to ask relevant questions of each other as well as articulate appropriate responses to others’ thinking.  Best of all, their discussion engagement and participation transferred to other subject areas.

As for Sarah herself, she found her professional growth was enhanced by learning how to deal with misconceptions (revisit and keep parents informed) and by using Science Talks as a basis for assessments and flexible lesson planning.  She was listening more and talking less with her class.

The authors suggest that since action research is “demanding and time consuming and requires a great commitment from teachers” (Hendricks 2005), it needs to be seen as relevant and useful to teachers so they should choose to do research of interest to them.  Collaboration with peers and scaffolding from mentors are also valuable components for successful action research.

This study proves that kindergarten is not too early to begin to teach appropriate academic interaction between students.  They construct their knowledge together and these discussions can be used to get students to understand the big ideas not only in science but in other subject areas as well.

Zhang, M., Passalacqua, S., Lundeberg, M., Koehler, M. J., Eberhardt, J., Parker, J., & … Paik, S. (2010). “Science Talks” in Kindergarten Classrooms: Improving Classroom Practice Through Collaborative Action Research. Journal Of Science Teacher Education, 21(2), 161-179.

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