Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

Learner Control and Task-Orientation in a Hypermedia Learning Environment: A Case Study of Two Economics Departments

Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

Learner Control and Task-Orientation in a Hypermedia Learning Environment: A Case Study of Two Economics Departments

Article excerpt

Learner control has been one of the most heavily researched dimensions of hypermedia environment in recent years. In contrast to traditional methods of instruction, hypermedia learning packages provide facilities that give students control over the presentation of content and sequence of learning activities; and hence offer students the opportunity to determine when instruction occurs and at what pace. However, this assumes that students have acquired the learning strategies and knowledge to work through the hypermedia package, and the attitudes that enable them to use these strategies and knowledge confidently, flexibly, appropriately and independently of a teacher [1]. In reality, these assumptions seldom hold and may lead to a loss in task-orientation.

Based on a research study of the use of WinEcon in two departments offering A-level Economics in England, this paper provides a descriptive and interpretive account of where and how WinEcon is situated in the course to support learner control and task-orientation among students. By linking the `successful' and `unsuccessful' uses of WinEcon in the departments with particular teaching and learning activities, this paper offers helpful information for educators on how to take up the opportunities of learner control offered by hypermedia packages, and how to address the problems associated with this control.

WINECON, LEARNER CONTROL AND TASK-ORIENTATION

WinEcon is a hypermedia package for teaching and learning in introductory economics courses. It offers more than 100 hours of tutorial materials, and includes self-assessment and examination questions, economic databases, an economic glossary, and references to leading economic textbooks. The window-based package was developed over a period of three years by the Teaching and Learning Technology Program (TLTP) Economics Consortium, consisting of economics departments from eight British universities, funded under the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFC).

The main learning mode of WinEcon is a tutorial one. As students log into the tutorial mode, they are presented with a menu of modules available (see Figure 1). Each module is divided into sections, which in turn are divided into topics. Different forms of interactions within each topic allow students to be engaged in each stage of explanation or analysis. These interactions include moving sliders to show effect of changing variables (see Figure 2), initiating simulations, and plotting graphs. The Advanced and More buttons in certain topics allow students to look at concepts in alternative ways (see Figure 3), as they diverge from the main body of learning materials.

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Students can set the pace of instruction and work through WinEcon at a rate commensurate with their ability and motivation. They have the option to repeat portions when necessary or desired, and change the speed at which they progress through each topic. They are also presented with a wide range of navigation routes where they may work in a non-linear fashion. For example, leaving an exercise half done to explore another topic before returning to complete the initial exercise. These navigational opportunities facilitate students' own learning style [2].

While teachers may determine the objectives of the lesson and what is to be learned, students have a substantial amount of control over the rate of learning and learning sequence. Therefore, students are in a better position to make judgement about their progress and monitor their own learning needs; and ultimately, they may adopt a more favorable approach towards learning, and operate more efficiently in the learning environment [3, 4, 5]. However, it cannot be assumed that these learning opportunities provided by the hypermedia learning package will always be taken up due to the possible loss of task-orientation among students.

First, students may lack the learning strategies and knowledge to work through WinEcon. …

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