Table of Contents Teaching & Learning with Internet Tools A Position Paper

Teaching & Learning with Internet Tools
A Position Paper

presented at the Workshop on "Teaching & Learning with the Web" at the First International Conference on the World-Wide Web, 1994 at CERN, Geneva.

Daniel Schneider, TECFA, FPSE, University of Geneva -


This position aims to encourage discussion between WWW providers of educational material and researchers in the field of educational technology. This paper is still a early draft and I am afraid it will retain that status for a while

Introductory reference material in the Appendix sections has awful very rough draft status. It is useful only as far as it points to some real reading. The table of Contents is in a separate file (by pure laziness) for the moment). Everything is straight Framemaker to html translation without modifications...)

1 Introduction

What is known about human learning relevant for the design of educational material? How should this knowledge be used in the context of more specific educational goals and WWW-supported learning & teaching activities? Generally speaking there are two important statements about learning and instruction:

  1. One learns by doing something (psychology)
  2. One learns by pursuing an instructional goal (education sciences)
The learning environment designer must take into account both perspectives. WWW-based courseware must not restrict itself to delivery of educational content. It must be grounded in some model of instruction and learning. Many possibilities exist and haven proven to be effective. However, each paradigm works under certain conditions in certain situations using some set of specific educational technology. For example, it can easily be argued that a good book is better than hypertext version of that book (why do people always print out things?). Also, general rules can be formulated such as "learning without doing is pretty useless in most domains". Consider the following questions:

  1. Would you take the plane if you knew that the pilot has read all the documentation about flying and successfully passed examination testing his knowledge?
  2. Would you take a plane if you knew that the pilot has been trained with Microsoft flight simulator? Which one do trust better?
  3. Would you take an Airbus if you knew that the pilot has been trained on a B-737 and has read the WWW multimedia Airbus documentation?
  4. If you had to teach flying an Airbus, would you take a would-be pilot and show him how to fly "hands-on"?(1)
Some basic misconceptions about learning have to avoided: Reading or seeing does not imply much learning. Even being able to recall knowledge does not mean being able to apply knowledge. Efficiency is not measured by mastery of the exercises and tests of a courseware tool, but my mastery of the task. Also be aware of more subtle knowledge transfer problems: Even "micro"-competencies such as operating an Airbus vs. a Boing or programming in C instead of Pascal are difficult to teach. If more abstract things like "programming" instead of just C programming have to be learned, special teaching strategies have to be used (such exercising skills in variating contexts. Lastly, the complexity of a learning environment must be adapted to the learners skills (Would you teach C as an introductory programming language)?

2 Some Learning Theory Background


Learning appears to be a complex matter. No doubt that this is the reason why all the various branches of learning theory do not even view the problem from a same angle. However, all academic traditions do provide the learning environment designer with important key ideas:

  1. Learning must take place within optional external "conditioning" (behaviorism)
  2. Learning is related to active problem solving and involves integration, construction and compilation of new content (cognitivism)
  3. Learning is constrained by human cognitive capacities (experimental psychology, HCI theory)

3 How is courseware related to instruction?

Courseware engineering is concerned with electronic learning environments. Such an environment is a combined system involving tasks, agents, courseware products, etc. which is aimed at supporting learning processes and in which learning takes place mostly in interaction between learners, courseware products, other tools, and to a lesser degree tutors (human or artificial). Courseware is always a combination of elements (cf. de Dinan & van Shaik 93: 193), such as:

Each type of courseware architecture organizes those resources in various ways. How complete are the materials supplied to the learner with respect to the information and support needed by the learner to achieve an instructional goal? Several ways of tackling this problem have been proposed.

We shall briefly introduce some ideas from (1) Instructional Design and from (2) Advanced Learning Environment Research.

4 Instructional Design Theory: Sequencing & Chunking of Educational Material

Summary (bad!)

Instructional Design Theory provides detailed prescription on how to organize teaching and learning at the global (curricula), lesson and task level. Most work is also grounded in some learning theory. Despite and maybe also because of the level of details those approaches attempt to formalize instruction their practical use is often debated. Some argument against reading much instructional design theory is that a good teacher with good practice intuitively knows and uses things like Gagné's steps.

Most people agree that instruction needs principles, however some researchers feel that instructional theory should not just be grounded in learning theory but BE applied learning theory and to implement optimal learning conditions according to what we know about learning. This is the way most research in Advanced Learning Systems operates.

5 Research on Advanced Learning Environments


At the current state of the WWW technology, it is not possible to implement this kind of advanced learning environment (without making use of external clients). However, there are points that WWW based courseware can adopt.

6 What learning activity can we do with the Web?

Here is a (short) list of different kinds of computational learning environments in use. They represetn different learning paradigms and can be classified along several axes like "Instruction - Learning", "External - Internal Control". Each are still appropriate for certain kinds of learning.

Now match that to those more technical items:

  1. Information servers to look up information (manuals, books, expositions, bibliographies, programs, etc.)
  2. Distribute educational material (texts, programs)
  3. Provide curricula & guidance to lessons and exercises in hypertext format.
  4. Implement collaborative work (dynamic hypertext, "News like conferencing system", co-writing)
  5. Implement Jigsaw puzzles
  6. Question & Answering, (tests, Skinner & Bloom type of learning to some extent)
  7. Interface to local clients (e.g. simulations, programming environments, tutors, etc.)
  8. The same thing over the web (e.g. have intelligent nodes, cf. Mallery)
  9. ....
The WWW, specially in conjunction with external local or server-side clients offers a lot of possibilities. But not everything can be done and it is important not to use in inappropriate learning paradigm for a given educational goal.

7 Educational Hypermedia

Integration of Hypermedia

There are 3 aspects:

  1. Integration into a learning environment setup: What role in learning & teaching does hypermedia have? (see also "What learning activity can we do with the Web?" on page 6) What other tools do we need?
  2. Integration into a learning environment architecture: How can we make integrate hypermedia with other computational learning tools?
  3. Computational integration with other programs: How can we build achieve tight integration?

8 Courseware engineering & the learning environment

In more simple and technical terms, courseware engineering (cf. De Dian & van Schaik 93:193) is concerned with:

Furthermore, Courseware engineering is not everything. Courseware alone rarely constitutes the full learning environment. Authors of Instructional Material on the Web should be aware of the following:

9 So what can we do with the Web?

In discussing the role of technological support in education, Sandberg (94:225) identifies the components of a (technologically rich) learning environment (see "Overview of the Learning Environment (Sandberg 94:225)" on page 9). These components must all be there in order to optimize learning. However, they can be "implemented" in many different ways. Each component has functionalities for which we should insure:

  1. teacher: His role is provide something between loose guidance & direct instruction. It can be a human agent (present or distant) or an intelligent agent. He provides information from the curriculum to the task level.
  2. monitor: The Monitor ensures that something is learner. A role taken by either the teacher, the learner (self-control) or by some program.
  3. fellow learners: Improve the learning process (some research tries to implement artificial ones)
  4. learning material: Learning material contains what has to be learned in a very broad sense (e.g. knowing what, knowing how). It can be computational in various ways (exploratory hypertext, lesson & task oriented hypertext, simulation software, task solving environments, etc.
  5. External info sources: All kinds of information which is not directly stored in the learning material (e.g. additional material, handbooks, manuals, etc.)
  6. tools: Everything which may help the learning process other then the learning material (e.g. calculators, communication software, etc.)
Let's examine the Table 1, "Filling in the Functionalities of a Learning Environment," on page 10. The first WS participant who comes up with a good filled in table will get a Swiss beer!

Table 1: Filling in the Functionalities of a Learning Environment 
                       teacher     monitor  fellow    learning   Ext. info   tools  
                                            learners  material   sources            
Simple WWW             partly
no (guide lines) WWW with forms & badly
server side scripts (Q&A) WWW with local data partly
processing clients (tutoring system) WWW with intelligent partly
server-side computing (tutoring system) computer or yes telephone talk virtual reality yes ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------


The question whether to fly with an Airbus at all, concerns more HCI but there is an interesting point concerning transfer of something learned: Would you drive a car without steering wheel (using sticks or something like that instead)?
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