Assessing the Impact of Instructional Methods and Information Technology on Student Learning Styles

Article excerpt

Introduction

The current outcome-based educational environment has brought an increased emphasis on understanding and enhancing the teaching-learning process. Instructional methods and student learning styles are the two critical factors that play a major role in the teaching-learning process. Understanding learning styles and the interaction between various instructional methods and learning styles can increase our understanding of the teaching-learning process and help us in enhancing it. In addition, technology can be a very valuable tool in customizing instruction for diverse student needs and learning preferences.

Several reasons exist why we should incorporate learning style information in our teaching. Since today's student population continues to grow more diverse (non-traditional, international students, company executives), an awareness of students' learning styles can help facilitate designing more effective instruction in a way that it is responsive to all students. In turn, this conscious design of instruction will lead to greater student satisfaction and achievement (McKeachie, 1995; Montgomery & Groat, 1998; O' Connor, 1997). A traditional approach of "one size fits all" can lead to student frustration, boredom, and failure. According to Felder (1993, p. 286):

   Students whose learning styles are compatible with the teaching
   style of a course tend to retain information longer, apply it more
   effectively, and have more positive post-course attitudes toward
   the subject than do their counterparts who experience
   learning/teaching style mismatches.

Additionally, students who understand differences in learning styles can become better learners if they expand their learning preferences in other areas, too (McKeachie, 1995; O' Connor, 1997). The success of learning depends, in part, on adapting teaching for individual learning styles (Corno & Snow, 1986). Despite research that shows that students learn in different ways and individual differences influence learning, very few instructors design their instruction to accommodate differences in learning styles (Farrington, 1999). Further, very few instructors incorporate both instructional methods and information technology to support diverse learning styles (O'Connor, 1997).

Most research in this area so far has focused either on teaching styles or learning styles or on technology. This paper provides an integrated approach and describes a process of integrating all three dimensions--instructional methods, learning styles, and information technology--in the teaching-learning context. This study examines the impact of instructional strategy and information technology on student learning styles.

Conceptual Framework

The research framework we use in this study has been adapted from the technology-mediated learning framework proposed by Alavi and Leidner (2001). Alavi and Leidner emphasize that in order to get a deeper understanding of the role of information technology in teaching-learning processes, we need to consider other factors like instructional methods and psychological learning processes of students. Psychological learning processes refer to how students learn and process information. In this study, we use the construct of learning styles to help us understand how different students process and learn information. Alavi and Leidner (2001) recommend that research is needed to examine the interactions between information technology, instructional methods, and the psychological processes of students. This paper attempts to fill this gap in student learning styles research by examining the impact of instructional methods and information technology on learning styles of students. Figure 1 shows the conceptual framework for the study. The study examined the impact of instructional methods and information technology on student learning styles and attempted to find out if students learning styles can be changed by combining technology and instructional methods. …