Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Mining Learning Preferences in Web-Based Instruction: Holists vs. Serialists

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Mining Learning Preferences in Web-Based Instruction: Holists vs. Serialists

Article excerpt


The World Wide Web (Web) provides an extremely large and dynamic information resource (Ma, Pant, and Sheng, 2007) and is currently being applied extensively as an important means for information dissemination (Harumoto, et al., 2005). In other words, using the Web has become an essential part of our daily life (Kirkwood, 2008). In particular, Web-based Instruction (WBI) has become increasingly popular in educational settings (Brotherton and Abowd 2004). Due to such popularity, WBI programs are used by many different students, each of which has their own set of personal preferences because they have different backgrounds, knowledge, and skills. In other words, human factors, namely those individual characteristics that can potentially affect the design of human-computer interaction (Sears and Jacko, 2009), are a necessary consideration in the design of WBI programs. There are many human factors, such as cognitive styles (e.g., Chen and Macredie, 2004), gender differences (e.g., Roy and Chi, 2003) and prior knowledge (e.g., Mitchell, Chen, and Macredie, 2005). Among them, cognitive style, which describes and explains differences in the preferred strategies for information representation and processing among individuals (Riding and Rayner, 1998), is particularly widely studied in the area of WBI because it has been shown to have a great effect on learners' preferences (Ford and Chen, 2001). The most widely studied cognitive style dimension is that of Witkin's (1976) Field Dependence/Independence. As showed in previous studies (e.g. Chen and Macredie, 2004; Chen and Liu, 2008), the Field Dependence/Independence dimension has considerable effects on learners' preferences for the design of WBI.

On the other hand, Pask's (1979) Holist/Serialist dimension has conceptual links to the Field Dependent/Independent dimension and such links suggest that this dimension of cognitive style may also play an influential role in the design of WBI programs. As suggested by Ford (2000), the Holist/Serialist dimension has potential for adapting computing-based systems to the needs of each learner. However, previous literature has paid less attention to this dimension of cognitive style. Thus, there is a need to examine how the Holist/Serialist dimension affects learners' preferences for the design of WBI programs. To this end, the study presented in this paper will investigate the influence of this particular cognitive style dimension on learners' preferences for the design of WBI programs.

Furthermore, this study will apply data mining techniques to analyze the relationship between learners' cognitive styles and the influence this has on their preferences for WBI programs because our previous work shows that employing the use of data mining techniques can help to identify relationships that were previously hidden by statistical analyses (e.g. Chen and Liu, 2008). Unlike our previous work, we, however, use multiple data mining techniques. Firstly, two families of classifiers are used to select relevant features and then three types of decision trees are applied to illustrate learners' preferences. With such an approach, this study will not only contribute to the understanding of how Pask's (1979) Holist/Serialist dimension influences learners' preferences, but also propose a new way to conduct data analyses

In this vein, this paper begins by analyzing previous research relating to WBI and cognitive styles and continues by providing a background on the data mining techniques used in this study. The methodology used to conduct the empirical study is described in section 3, followed by the discussion of the findings in section 4. This section also suggests a set of design points drawn from the findings that should be included in an interface to account for learners' cognitive styles. Conclusions are then presented in section 5 where suggestions for future work are also proposed.

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Web-based instruction (WBI) programs provide flexible teaching and learning environments for students through the provision of non-linear learning (Pituch & Lee, 2006), as students have the freedom to control their learning by themselves, for example, through the use of different navigational tools. …

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