Academic journal article Higher Education Studies

Tool Use of Experienced Learners in Computer-Based Learning Environments: Can Tools Be Beneficial?

Academic journal article Higher Education Studies

Tool Use of Experienced Learners in Computer-Based Learning Environments: Can Tools Be Beneficial?

Article excerpt


Research has documented the use of tools in computer-based learning environments as problematic, that is, learners do not use the tools and when they do, they tend to do it suboptimally. This study attempts to disentangle cause and effect of this suboptimal tool use for experienced learners. More specifically, learner variables (metacognitive and motivational) were related to the tool presentation (non-/embedded), interventions, type of tool use (quantitatively and qualitative) and learners' performance. One hundred and seventeen graduate students were assigned to one of five conditions (embedded and non-embedded with explained tool functionality, embedded and non-embedded with non-explained tool functionality and one control condition) to study a hypertext using semi-structured concept maps as the tools. Findings are discussed with respect to experienced learners' role on tool use and performance. Although no differences among conditions and performance were found, results reveal that the self-regulation skill of organization and the explained tool functionality affected time on tool negatively, while the self-regulation skill of elaboration and perceived tool usability showed a positive effect. Time on tool influenced performance positively. Quality influenced performance negatively. It is argued that some tools and interventions are unnecessary for experienced learners.

Keywords: computer-based learning environments, goal orientation, self-efficacy, semi-structured concept maps, tool interventions, tools presentation, experienced learners, learning outcomes

1. Introduction

Learners are often offered an array of different (learning) tools in computer-based learning environments (CBLEs). These CBLEs often assume learners are good judges of their learning needs and will therefore use the offered tools according to the tools' main aim, which is to help the learners learn better (Aleven, Stahl, Schworm, Fischer, & Wallace, 2003). However, research has indicated that the use of tools is problematic: The presence of tools does not guarantee that tools will be used and if tools happen to be used, this usage does not guarantee effective tool use (Elen & Clark, 2006). In this regard, research has already documented that learners tend to avoid the use of tools (Aleven et al., 2003; Perkins, 1985) and when they decide to use the tools, learners tend to use them inadequately (Aleven et al., 2003; Perkins, 1985).

The use of tools has been classified as either quantitative or qualitative. While quantity of tool use focuses on amount of tool use (e.g., time spent on tool and frequency of tool use) (Clarebout, Horz, Schnotz, & Elen, 2010; Viau & Larivée, 1993), quality of tool use tries to analyze how learners include the tools in their learning process (Jiang & Elen, 2011; Zumbach, 2009). The purpose of research exploring different ways of tool usage in CBLEs is to analyze the effects tool use may have on learning outcomes (i.e., performance) (Aleven et al., 2003; Clarebout & Elen, 2006).

The question remains whether these claims are generalizable for experienced learners, who have already gone through a number of years of advanced higher education and for whom CBLEs are often made for (Lust, Juarez Collazo, Elen, & Clarebout, 2012). According to Aleven et al. (2003), tool use improves with age, which is directly related to learners' improvement of metacognitive and motivational variables (see also: Perkins, 1985). Moreover, the different characteristics of the tool itself (Perkins, 1985) may impact the (mis)use of tools in addition to the influence (instructional) interventions may also have. Therefore, it is questionable whether experienced learners need tools. Moreover, if tools are used, it is also questioned how tool use can be described in terms of quantity and quality as well as how tool use impacts performance.

1.1 The Nature of the Experienced Learner and Tool Use

Within Perkins's (1985) framework to increase the probability of effective tool use, two main types of learner variables are emphasized. …

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