Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Effects of Cognitive Styles on an MSN Virtual Learning Companion System as an Adjunct to Classroom Instructions

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Effects of Cognitive Styles on an MSN Virtual Learning Companion System as an Adjunct to Classroom Instructions

Article excerpt


Instant Message (IM) based instruction is increasingly used in many e-learning programs, and the reported benefits include higher learner interest, increased participation in coursework and improved outcomes (Du & Li, 2010; Lu, Chiou, Day, Ong, & Hsu, 2006; Lan & Jiang, 2009; Sotillo, 2006). IM based instruction is generally most effective when used as a supplement to, rather than a replacement for, traditional education (Sotillo, 2006), and there is certainly increased interest in using IM based instruction in this fashion. As an integrated curriculum component, IM based instruction can be used in the instructional process, as a Virtual Learning Companion (VLC), including individual tutorial practice, and testing. For example, Lu et al. (2006) used chatbot technique to design a VLC based on IM based instruction for student on-line coaching in English learning. Lan and Jiang (2009) also designed a VLC to improve undergraduate programming courses. Du and Li (2010) used and designed an IM based instruction VLC as collaborative supporting tools in e-learning program.


In view of the above, the goal of the present work was to develop a VLC that incorporated emerging best practices for IM based instruction development and that could also be used as a prototype for other e-learning programs. However, those studies focus on the VLCs' conversation ability (Brennan, 2006), instead of paying much attention to users' cognitive differences in e-learning programs. Johnson and Aragon (2003) contend that powerful instructional framework for e-learning need to contain a combination of seven principles (see Figure 1). According to their study, recognition of individual differences has, for the most part, been taken into account in e-learning. Individual differences specific to learning and instruction can be found within cognitive styles, learning styles, cognitive controls, intelligence, etc. (Jonassen & Grabowski, 1993).

Individual cognitive differences among learners mean that no one instructional method is appropriate for the array of cognitive styles. Contemporary researchers suggest that instructors need to learn a different set of teaching skills for teaching online (Brower, 2003; Easton, 2003). The limitation imposed by the presentation of learning materials that are not based on learners' needs can result in an opposite effect. Drummond (2000) believed that one of the main reasons that situations in which opposite learning effects came into play was the disregard of learners' cognitive styles. Dunn and Dunn (1994) found that when the teaching methods and formats of materials fit learners' cognitive styles, it improved not only the student's learning performance but also their attitude toward learning. Any well designed IM based instruction system must be adaptive to learners' cognitive styles so as to increase both the efficacy and the satisfaction of the learning experience.

This paper designed a VLC using chatbot system technique and considered individual cognitive difference in IM based instruction environment. Cognitive theory has presented a very broad and useful classification for understanding individual cognitive difference. This is Dillon and Gabbard's (1988) construct of Field Dependence Independence (FD-I). FD-I places learners on spectrum that designates one end as field-dependent (FD), and the other end as field-independent (FI). This model has been successfully utilized in studies regarding more traditional educational environments, but the results of research that have used this model to study the performance of learners interacting with new technologies to accomplish a learning task are still inconclusive (Davis, 1991; Dillon & Gabbard, 1998), and, at times, contradictory. Understanding the different cognitive styles of learners, and which instruction method is most beneficial to that style remains open to much greater research. …

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