Handbook of Distance Education

By Michael Grahame Moore; William G. Anderson | Go to book overview
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Cognitive and Learning Factors in
Web-Based Distance Learning
Michael Hannafin
The University of Georgia
Janette R. Hill
The University of Georgia
Kevin Oliver
Virginia Polytechnic Institute
and State University

Evan Glazer
The University of Georgia
Priya Sharma
The Pennsylvania State University


Research on Web-based learning can prove difficult to benchmark since the field is highly fluid and changes rapidly. Costigan (1999) noted, “We are still at the point where we have to gain a better understanding of the trees [individual characteristics of the Internet/Web] before the forest makes any sense” (p. xxiv). According to Windschitl (1998), “the volume of diverse information, the currency of information, the availability of data sets for inspection or downloading, and the wealth of visual information—-should promote a richer inquiry experience for learners, especially in the typical classroom where stale resource materials do little to stimulate students' interest” (p. 29).

While the possibilities appear limitless, the reality often has proven disappointing. There is a great deal of activity in and information about Web-based learning (e.g., Boettcher & Conrad, 1999; Leflore, 2000), but only limited empirical research has emerged (Hill & Hannafin, 1997; Roschelle & Pea, 1999; Windschitl, 1998). To further complicate matters, many researchers report equivocal, nonsignificant, or even contradictory findings (see, for example, Russell, 1999). As a result, both researchers and practitioners are left more confused than enlightened.

It is important to establish a broader framework for understanding Web-based learning. In the following sections, we examine the relevance and significance of existing research in both Web-based learning as well as computer-mediated learning. We examine two factors: cognitive and learning. Cognitive and learning factors share both similarities with and distinctions from


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Handbook of Distance Education
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