Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Potential Negative Effects of Mobile Learning on Students' Learning Achievement and Cognitive Load-A Format Assessment Perspective

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Potential Negative Effects of Mobile Learning on Students' Learning Achievement and Cognitive Load-A Format Assessment Perspective

Article excerpt

Background and objectives

In the past decade, the advancement of mobile technology has offered an opportunity to provide learning supports at anytime and anywhere. Various studies have reported the benefits of applying mobile technologies (e.g., personal digital assistants, smart phones, or portable computers) to the learning activities of various courses, including science, social science, and language courses (Hoppe, Joiner, Milrad, & Sharples, 2003; Liu, Wang, Liang, Chan, Ko, & Yang, 2003; Hsu, Hwang, & Chang, 2010; Sharples, Taylor, & Vavoula, 2007; Wong & Looi, 2011; Wong, Chin, Tan, & Liu, 2010; Zhang et al., 2010). For example, Chen, Kao, and Sheu (2003), based on scaffolding theory, developed a bird-watching mobile learning system that enables learners to observe birds outdoors, while gaining information about the birds via mobile devices. Moreover, teachers can send questions to students by means of these devices. Later, Chen, Chang, and Wang (2008) also employed the scaffolding theory to conduct mobile learning activities. In the meantime, Chu, Hwang, Huang, and Wu (2008) conducted several outdoor learning activities in a butterfly ecology garden by integrating mobile learning environments with electronic library facilities. Recently, Hwang, Wu and Ke (2011) proposed an interactive concept-mapping approach for conducting mobile learning activities for natural science courses.

During the process of mobile learning, students interact with authentic contexts through words, pictures, sounds, animations, and images, all provided by the mobile devices. Compared with traditional instruction or conventional web-based learning, mobile or ubiquitous learning scenarios could be much more complex for learners since they need to simultaneously deal with learning materials in both the real world and the digital world. In the past decade, many studies have shown that proper mobile learning strategies or tools need to be considered to help the students acquire the expected learning achievements in real-world environments (Chu, Hwang, & Tsai, 2010; Chen, Chang, & Wang, 2008; Chen, Kao, & Sheu, 2003; Liu, Lin, Tsai, & Paas, 2012; Looi, Zhang, So, Chen & Wong, 2010). Most of those studies have focused on whether the students' learning performance can be improved by the mobile learning system or by using proper traditional instruction strategies (Hwang, Wu, Tseng, & Huang, 2011; Wu, Hwang, Su, & Huang, 2012). Only a few studies have been conducted to investigate the impacts of mobile learning on students' cognitive load (e.g., Liu et al., 2012), which might be an important indicator to evaluate the effectiveness of applying well-recognized web-based learning strategies to mobile learning activities (Ozcinar, 2009).

Cognitive load theory was proposed in the 1980s. It is concerned with the way in which humans' cognitive architecture deals with learning objects during the learning process or when performing a particular task. Human cognitive architecture is composed of working short-term and long-term memory, in which all conscious cognitive processing occurs; moreover, cognitive load has been recognized as being closely related to the demand of working memory resources during the learning process (Paas, Renkl, & Sweller, 2003). Baddeley and Hitch (1974) found that human working memory can handle only a very limited number of novel interacting elements, possibly no more than two or three; that is, improper design of learning content and instructional strategies is likely to increase the cognitive load of students owing to overloading their working memory.

In this study, the students' cognitive loads as well as their learning outcomes of an in-field mobile learning activity are investigated. In-field mobile learning refers to the learning activities conducted in the field using mobile devices, such as learning activities in museums, ecology parks or historical buildings. …

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