FACTORS INFLUENCING THE USE OF COGNITIVE TOOLS IN WEB-BASED LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS: A Case Study

By Ozcelik, Erol; Yildirim, Soner | Quarterly Review of Distance Education, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

FACTORS INFLUENCING THE USE OF COGNITIVE TOOLS IN WEB-BASED LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS: A Case Study


Ozcelik, Erol, Yildirim, Soner, Quarterly Review of Distance Education


High demands on learners in Web-based learning environments and constraints of the human cognitive system cause disorientation and cognitive overload. These problems could be inhibited if appropriate cognitive tools are provided to support learners' cognitive processes. The purpose of this study was to explore the factors influencing the use of cognitive tools in Web-based learning environments. This study used data from 31 students who attended a course delivered via the Internet. The students used 9 different cognitive tools developed in accordance with the promises of "cognitive load theory," "mental model theory," and "information processing theory." Data were collected through group interviews and questionnaires. Additionally, computer logs were analyzed to validate qualitative data. Results revealed that such factors as learning strategies, learners' prior knowledge, the usability of and orientation to tools, connectivity cost, and the content influenced learners' utilization of Web-based cognitive tools.

INTRODUCTION

There is an increasing pressure on higher education institutions to change with the information age, because of the evolving learning needs of society and the impact of new technologies on teaching and learning (Bates, 2000). The Web has the potential to meet this need of change by providing opportunities to create "well designed, learner-centered, engaging, interactive, affordable, efficient, easily accessible, flexible, meaningful, distributed and facilitated" learning environments (Khan, 2001, p. 5).

As the popularity of the Web is growing, attention to its use as a medium of learning and instruction is elevating as well. The percentage of higher educational institutions that offered distance learning courses using asynchronous Internet-based technologies was only 22% in 1995, whereas 60% in 1997-98 academic year (Reiser, 2001). However, these institutions' approach is mostly based on the assumption that exposing learners to messages encoded in media and delivered by technology will result in learning (Jonassen & Reeves, 1996). Designers rarely take into account the cognitive processes of learners.

BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY

In Web-based learning environments, learners have the primary responsibility to access, organize, and analyze information (Jonassen & Grabinger, 1990, Newmark, 1989, citied in Iiyoshi, 1999). These high demands cause a cognitive burden on learners. Thus, cognitively ill-equipped learners feel disorientation and cognitive overload in these learning environments (Marchionini, 1988; Oren, 1990). In addition, learning is inhibited due to three major constraints of the human cognitive system: limited capacity of human short-term memory, difficulty in retrieving relevant information from long-term memory, and ineffective or inefficient use of cognitive strategies to obtain, manipulate, and restructure information (Kozma, 1992). Considering these problems and constraints, there is a necessity to support learners for constructing their personal knowledge with technology-based tools.

According to Jonassen and Reeves (1996), "cognitive tools refer to technologies, tangible or intangible, that enhance the cognitive powers of human beings during thinking, problem solving and learning." For Kozma (1987), cognitive tools are software programs that use the computer to amplify, extend, or enhance human cognition.

Cognitive tools are not designed to make learning easy or effortless by reducing information processing like the false promises of many earlier instructional technologies (Jonassen & Reeves, 1996). They are not "fingertip" tools (Perkins, 1990, cited in Jonassen, 1992) that are used naturally, effortlessly, and effectively. Instead, learners need to think harder and more meaningful by employing deeper information processing.

According to Derry and Lajoie (1993), the appropriate role for a computer system should not be a teacher or an expert, but rather a tool that extends the mind. …

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