Web 2.0 and Emerging Learning Technologies/Web 2.0 Learning Styles

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Introduction

It seems in the twenty-first century new learning technologies are appearing every day for teachers to think about. With the advent of technology across all fields of learning, the ways in which learners store and retrieve information for further use has dramatically changed. Multimedia, interactive learning technologies, and collaborative learning are the new method which have been successfully deployed for conventional or unconventional learning. Previously, the different ways of learning were restricted to people who learn better visually, people who are more comfortable with words, and so on. These sensibilities are changing and are being tested by new ways of utilizing and integrating technology.

Adult learning is on the rise and the usual models for addressing student learning do not apply any more. Different learners come from varied backgrounds with a range of experiences and entry behaviors. For example, in case of conventional school learning, students definitely do not all have same the kind of interests. Some are more interested in sports, some in literature, and others in music or many other areas. Some people learn best through pictures and illustrations, while others find it easier to retain information in the form of verbal chunks. Still others prefer hands-on learning or reflective learning. In the case of technology mediated learning, the motivations, interests, and ways to retain information are different than in the conventional format. Therefore, it is necessary to understand that the learning styles of conventional learners are different than for digital new age learners.Different learner groups have different characteristics and learning styles. I think you can probably put emphasis on a specified group, like college and university students or K-12 students.


Theory of Multiple Intelligences in Conventional Learning

Howard Gardner (1983) proposed a new view of looking at the concept of intelligence which included areas such as music, interpersonal knowledge, mathematical, linguistic ability, and other aeas. Gardner defines intelligence as "the capacity to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural setting" (Gardner & Hatch, 1989). In contrast to his views, the conventional education addresses and recognizes only two types of intelligences--verbal and computational. The seven intelligences which Gardner defines are-Logical Intelligence, Mathematical Intelligence, Linguistic Intelligence, Spatial Intelligence, Musical Intelligence, Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence, and Personal Intelligence. The proposed theory is called the Theory of Multiple Intelligences and is used to refer to the aptitude of a learner. On the basis of this theory, it has been suggested that none of the learning theories function in isolation. For students to learn effectively, all these intelligences need to be challenged and the instructor needs to create supporting exploration materials for it.


Traditional Vs Neomillenial Model of Learning

In addition to theories of multiple intelligences and learning styles there are issues related to learner personalities. The widely accepted traditional model of education too often fails to consider all these areas. Some teachers, however, address the kind of senses (auditory, visual) the learner uses, the learner’s aptitude (Theory of Multiple Intelligences), and the personality type. The personality types are identified as the Myer-Briggs personality types-

1. Extrovert vs. Introvert

2. Sensing vs. Intuition

3. Thinking vs. Feeling

4. Judgment vs. Perception

Dieterle, Dede, and Schrier have proposed adding an additional aspect to the Traditional Model – a media based or a mediated learning style. The constant connectivity, content developed, updated, and propagated constantly, and the collaborative nature of the emerging technologies has made it essential to redefine the old concepts of learning. In effect, emerging technologies push educators to consider ways of learning with them. Some learners come to school with preset habits and expectations regarding technology use in their learning activities. Unfortunately, teachers and schools are too often not adapting to their needs and expecations.


Catering to ‘digital’ intelligence

The main idea and the driving concept behind the digital way of learning is collaboration and placing the control in the learner’s hands. Encouraging them to be a part of their own learning and making them responsible for finding the necessary content. George Siemens's Connectivism illustrates digital learning effectively- "We derive our competence," writes Siemens, "from forming connections... Chaos is a new reality for knowledge workers... Unlike constructivism, which states that learners attempt to foster understanding by meaning-making tasks, chaos states that the meaning exists— the learner's challenge is to recognize the patterns which appear to be hidden. Meaning-making and forming connections between specialized communities are important activities." In effect, learners are learning through their connections, constructions, and communications of those knowledge constructions to those in their social connections or networks. Digital learning is about connections, not about isolated learning.

The emerging learning styles include:

1. Fluency in multiple media and in simulation based virtual settings

2. Communal learning involving diverse, tacit, situated learning, with knowledge distributed across a community and a context as well as within an individual

3. A balance among experiential learning, guided mentoring, and collective reflection

4. Expression through nonlinear association webs of representations

5. Co-design of learning experiences personalized to individual needs and preferences


Some of the main signifiers of the Web 2.0 learners were sites like LiveJournal which led to the boom of other ‘social networking styles’ like Orkut, LinkedIn, and now Facebook. The fundamental idea behind these, apart from getting in touch with people was the willingness to share content, information, free software, etc. The Internet was no more just a medium, but a platform to create a community of sorts, on the basis of sharing and exchanging ideas. This formation of a community like network has given an extremely different twist for the learners. This generation is high on collaborating, expressing their opinions through blogs, and podcasting their views for the world to see.


The main characteristics of the Web 2.0 learners can be summarized as:

1. Need for immediate feedback, responsiveness, and ideas from others. Learners want to know if they know something. They are used to instant gratification and rewards. They want to know if they succeeded. In effect, they want feedback on their work and ideas.

2. Feeling of community, sharing, and exchange: a ‘give and take’ atmosphere, COLLABORATION and connections with others. To socially interact is simply part of living in the twenty-first century. There are constant opportunities for collaboration, sharing, and mixing.

3. Controlled by the learner at all times: create his or her own world, time, references, community, etc. The learner is empowered to learn, which further nurtures self-motivation to learn other content.

4. Exposure to different kinds of virtual media: ability to communicate with different interfaces with a fair amount of confidence. Such exposure raises the level of technology skills for the neomillennial learner and instructor.

5. Flexible roles: changes from being a student, to a support for the group, to being a ‘in house’ help on certain topics, and being the instructor at times. There is a constant switching into and out of these roles.

6. The need for ‘on demand’: the learners have access to content at all times with the help of various technologies which best fit their requirements or ease of use. The can call it up when and where needed!

One of the main by-products of this ‘social change’ is that probably for the first time, the end product is not the most important thing in the learning process. The process itself, the exposure, as well as the tools used along the way are, in some cases, much more important than the task itself. This section is very impressive. I think you can provide a case illustrating learning process of Web 2.0 learners. How/when do the learners work collaboratively in the wiki? For example, adding their notes, correcting what’s wrong, and reviewing the wiki before an exam.


Motivation for Web 2.0 learners

A good learning scenario or a learning tool has to ensure learner motivation. It is the driving factor which decides whether the student will turn to the next page in a book, volunteer for additional work, or come back again for a second round of discussion. Much research has been done on how learners are motivated. The Web 2.0 addresses many aspects of motivation directly, including learner empowerment, choice, expression, variety, novelty, collaboration, and interactivity. So many motivational principles are addressed with the Web 2.0 technologies such as Live Mocha, Chinswing, Mixxer, Scrapblog, VoiceThreads, etc.

In Web 2.0 sites, the content is constantly updated; people from different parts of the world are sharing their ideas and perspectives. There is never an element of boredom in the sharing process. In addition, the learners are free to access, construct, and share their own ideas and content. There is sense of responsibility for their learning, and there is not one right way of doing something. All kinds of answers are possible and perhaps accepted, with plausible explanations and data to support it. There are no apparent limitations to learning, topics to explore, or people to collaborate with. Equally important, the technology is easy to use, or can be learned easily. One of the most important factors is the variety of options in tools, technology, and the kinds of media. Learners can access websites, use their mobile phones to log in to update their blogs, and download podcasts onto their iPods. Not surprisingly, mobile learning is catching on in the form of some of the corporate ventures where major corporate giants make their courseware available to their employees via mobile phones.


Criticism against Web 2.0

A lot of theories differentiating the types of learners and learning styles have come under heavy criticism in the UK. Baroness Greenfield, director of the Royal Institute and a Professor at Oxford University is of the opinion that differentiating learners on the basis of ‘learning styles’ is incorrect. According to Baroness Greenfield (and many other educational scholars and researchers), this practice is “nonsense” from a neuroscientific point of view. The Baroness argues that there is no independent evidence that people learn though visual, auditory, or kinesthetic styles (VAK). Frank Coffield, Professor at London University Institute of Education, reviewed 13 models of learning styles. He insists that the VAK approach is theoretically incoherent and confused.

There are some factors which may lead to further arguments and speculation about the accuracy and use of the different learning styles. Each learner has a unique way of learning, the ultimate goal is retention. There could be some differentiation of ‘grasping’ information on the basis of the senses used. Even if there is an apparent change in behavior due to the ‘learning’, it might be hard to pinpoint the sense or the learning style which has played a part in the retention and the ultimate change.

There could be a number of hypothetical points for change in a learner, but the very nature of learning in Web 2.0 makes it difficult to point out and justify the differentiation of learners. Web 2.0 is supposed to be collaborative, which makes the learners necessarily ‘social’ in their learning nature. But, in reality this might be so given the learning tools and resources we now possess. Of course, there is always an argument about virtual being just as real as the tangible world. Therefore, there can be many counter arguments against the differentiation, but none of them can be dismissed conclusively. The picture could be a lot more transparent in a few years when the Neomillenial learners grow up to exhibit higher levels of transfer of learning.


Immersion

To understand the learning styles of the learners today, it is important to understand the significance of technology in their lives. The learner today can send and receive emails and phone calls, while listening to the iPod, and doing homework all at the same time. They operate at a ‘twitch’ speed expecting instant feedback. “On demand,” “Always on,” are some of the terms which are used especially to define these learners.

Some of the points required to understand the ‘immersive’ nature of Web 2.0 are:

1. The “world to desktop” interface which provides access to online dictionaries, distant collaborative partners, and virtual communities of practice through the use of Internet. As such, there are many ways to address learning styles through the desktop. You can get learners to collaborate one minute and reflect on that collaboration in the next.

2. Multi User Virtual Environment (MUVE) interfaces in which participant’s avatars interact with computer based agents and digital artifacts in virtual contexts. Such agents might prompt learners to reflect on what they have accomplished or where they want to go or what they want to do next. They can also foster interaction and collaboration.

3. Mobile wireless devices (MWDs) are used to gain access to the virtual world. Such mobile technologies include gaming devices, mobile phones, and PDAs. Now the learner can always be doing something! It is hands-on learning with devices in your hands which excite learners and foster their motivation to learn even more.

4. MWDs would access all kinds of information right from finding people with similar interests in your community to information about the weather, stock markets, sports, comedy, etc. Now if one had a learning gap or need, it can be readily filled in.

5. Extended alternate identities or augmented realities, like networking sites through which people are willing/able to express varied interests and aspects of their own personality. Now one can test ideas in different ways and with different personas. A learner can be a quiet person in a traditional classroom and an extrovert in Second Life, or vice versa.

The above factors and ideas exhibit the ‘immersive’ nature of Web 2.0 so that the learners have a virtual parallel to their lives. Their involvement with the World Wide Web is complete to the extent of constructing a different reality in the virtual world. Leading a ‘second life’, working with chosen avatars, listing your profile or intended identity exhibits the personalized, constructed, and immersive nature of the Internet. The possibility to create mediated situations which may not be possible in real life is a feature of immersive learning. Now one can test out different identities, learning styles, and various ways of knowing and interacting. Constructing hypothetical situations in a real-life atmosphere creates a sense of augmented reality.

Learning Styles and Intelligence

The best way to correlate learning styles with Web 2.0 is to explore the tools which are used in Web 2.0. Blogs, podcasts, and collaborative writing are some of the latest ‘learning tools’ used in Web 2.0. Given below is a chart describing some of the tools in Web 2.0 and the kind of intelligence that tool uses.

Web 2.0 Tool Learning Style Intelligence
Collobarative Authoring Visual Linguistic, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal
Blogs Visual Linguistic
Podcasts Podcasts Musical and Spatial
MUVEs Visual Visual, Spatial and Kinesthetic
iPods Auditory Musical
M Learning Auditory, Visual, Kinesthetic Musical
PDAs Auditory, Visual, Kinesthetic Musical
Facebook Visual Linguistic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal
Orkut Visual Linguistic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal
Second-life Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic Spatial, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Bodily


Conclusion

For the purpose of helping academics and other educators, it is vital to understand the learning styles and approaches of this new generation of learner. But no one can predict that a certain learner will learn as well in the same style tomorrow that he has learned in today. Learners are changing and adapting to the ever changing technology. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to predict that a particular style or type of intelligence will be used in a particular case. Blended learning is probably the most effective and efficient way to ensure that the learner receives a fantastic learning experience. The best part of a blend is that there is always something for somebody and that generally maintains the interest and the motivation of learners quite successfully. Find, experiment with, and share the how you address the learning styles of this new generation of student. With the emerging of the Web 2.0, there are many opportunities for you and many places to share to opportunities with others.

References

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