Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

The Use of Computer Simulation to Compare Student Performance in Traditional versus Distance Learning Environments

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

The Use of Computer Simulation to Compare Student Performance in Traditional versus Distance Learning Environments

Article excerpt


Innovative advances in technology have introduced a variety of tools to enhance learning in higher education. Among these, computer simulations have been used (1) to support a variation of cognitive learning styles, (2) to facilitate higher-order thinking and problem solving skills, and (3) to augment differential, collaborative, and mastery learning (Koh et al., 2010). A widely acceptable tool for teaching and learning, computer simulations combines visual and interactive learning experiences, promotes application of knowledge, and provides a simplified representation of real-world systems (Eskrootchi & Oskrochi, 2010; Nishikawa & Jaeger, 2011).

Scholars ascertain that guided discovery, deliberate practice, and engagement in active learning by means of computer simulation leads to enhanced performance and retention of concepts (Udo & Etiubon, 2011; West & Veenstra, 2012). Additionally, study reports cite immediate feedback, skill acquisition, and self-directed learning as the most prevalent reasons for computer simulation use across disciplines (Bai & Fusco, 2011; Koenig, Iseli, Wainess, & Lee, 2013).

In earlier literature, Brown, Collins and Duguid (1989) argued that "classroom activities lack the contextual features of real-life problem-solving situations and therefore weaken the ability of students to transfer and apply knowledge from classroom to work environments" (p. 34). Moreover, several studies conclude that in order to facilitate transfer, authentic-like tasks are necessary to promote effective learning and workplace relevance (Koenig et al., 2013; Muir, Allen, Rayner, & Cleland, 2013; Rackaway & Goertzen, 2008). When used as an instructional method, Rogers (2011) contends that computer simulation bridges the gap between reality and abstract knowledge. Eskrootchi and Oskrochi (2010) believe that computer simulations provide connections to real-world contexts that positively impact student learning.

In sum, proponents affirm that computer simulations promote student interest and involvement, foster retention of information, and offers opportunities for affective and behavioral learning (Alexe, 2013; Koenig et al., 2013; Muir et al., 2013; Sauter, Uttal, Rapp, Downing, & Jona, 2013). Furthermore, those in favor of computer simulation use in higher education contend that through repeated practice and immediate feedback, transfer of knowledge, skills, and abilities from classroom to real world environments is enhanced (Alexe, 2013; Rackaway & Goertzen, 2008).

Despite support for computer simulation use in higher education, critics point out that:

* it impedes further development of students' interpersonal skills due to the lack of face-toface interactions between and among the instructor and students, respectively (Asal & Blake, 2006);

* it has pronounced pedagogical drawbacks as there is a lack of empirical findings linking its use to positive learning outcomes (Kahn & Perez, 2009; Wheeler, 2006) and methodologically speaking, much of the research supporting such findings lack a high standard of rigor (Frederking, 2005; Shellman, 2006); and

* it perpetuates random guessing and therefore is not a valid or reliable predictor of student performance (Teach & Patel, 2007; Wolfe & Luethge, 2003).

Computer simulations have primarily been used to augment the learning process in traditional, face-to-face environments (Rutten, Van Jooloingen, & Van der Veen, 2012), however, the rapid growth of distance education has prompted practitioners and researchers to re-examine delivery structures and the role of technology as a means to integrate and enhance the distance learning experience (Rogerson-Revell, Nie, & Armellini, 2012). Still, few studies have been conducted that explore how different delivery methods of instruction impact students' learning with regard to computer simulations as most researchers are only concerned with the overall medium effects in comparison with the traditional instruction. …

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