Information and information technology
Chapter 2 : Information and information technology
Nature of individualization
The aim of this Chapter is to review some of the technological devices at present employed in learning, in order to bring evidence to support the claim, put forward in Chapter 1, that these technological devices can foster individualization / personalization / integration of-within learning experiences and, as result of this, make the learning process more effective.
The development of modern learning devices could be approximately arranged in three chronological stages:
- 1950 Teaching Machines
- 1970 Computer Assisted Learning
- 1990 Multimedia Interactive Learning.
Almost in conjunction with these three temporal stages, a trend can be detected towards an increasing the possibility of individualization, personalization and integration in the way learning experiences are made to take place.
The actual occurrence of this threefold trend will be examined and its effects on the learning process assessed.
In January 1926, Sidney L. Pressey presented a patent application for a learning device labelled "machine for intelligence tests" (Pressey S. L., 1926).
He envisaged that, with this kind of inventions, the "work in the schools of the future will be marvellously though simply organized, so as to adjust almost automatically to individual differences and the characteristics of the learning process" (Pressey S. L., 1933).
This drive towards individualization of teaching/learning processes, supported and enhanced by a mechanical device, re-appeared at the beginning of the '50s in the work of B. F. Skinner, professor of Psychology at Harvard University.
The idea of a teaching machine arose, in him, in 1953, after a visit to his daughter's fourth grade class where, during an arithmetical assignment, he made two observations:
"a) all students had to proceed at the same pace in the teaching situation;
b) students had to wait 24 hours to learn the accuracy of their responses to the problems.
A few days later he built a primitive machine to teach arithmetic" (Benjamin Jr. L.T., 1988).
The following year, in a famous paper presented at a Conference on 'Current Trends in Psychology and the Behavioral Sciences' at the University of Pittsburgh, Skinner underlined the two improvements to the learning process brought about by a teaching machine : immediate reinforcement and individualization. This, clearly provided that the subject can be broken down into 'bits' and a reward can be connected to the correct response.
Referring to individualization he remarked: "A teacher may supervise an entire class at work on such devices at the same time, yet each child may progress at his own rate, completing as many problems as possible within the class period" (Skinner B. F., 1954).
During the '50s, most psychologists and educationalists considered mass schooling and individual needs as dominant features of the educational scenario, both to be taken into consideration and to be catered for. In order to counterbalance massification with individualization, the solution suggested by some members of the scientific community consisted of the introduction, on a large scale, of what were variously labelled teaching aids, teaching machines, programmed teaching, programmed learning, programmed instruction, automated instruction, instructional technology. (Galanter E. ed., 1959; Lumsdaine A. A. and Glaser R. eds., 1960; Smith W. I and Moore J. W. eds., 1962; Roucek J. S. ed., 1966).
The rationale was that "... teaching can be most effective only if it adjusts to the singular requirements of each learner... . Programmed instruction is attempting to increase the adaptive advantages of individual student-teacher interaction at the same time that the advantages of mass education are preserved" (Taber J. I., Glaser R., Schafer H. H., 1965).
Having established the existence of a correlation between these technological learning devices and the individualization of the learning process, within the limits of a condition response system, two aspects need to be analysed and assessed:
i) the nature of this individualization;
ii) the results in terms of learning performances.
Nature of individualization
The individualization achieved through the use of these devices means substantially, for the learner :
1) being able to work on his/her own;
2) being able to work at his/her own pace.
Referring to point (1) (working on his/her own), it has been said (Hartley J., 1974) that, even while accepting "... the notion of the importance of individual learning", it should not be discounted the fact that "individualized learning is not necessarily always the best way of programmed learning."
As regard to this remark, it has been stressed (Romiszowski A. J., 1974; Heidt E. U., 1978; Brown J. W., Lewis R. B., Harcleroad F. F., 1973; Gerlach V. S., Ely D. P., 1980) that the use of technological learning devices should be the result of a process of selection of media linked to a specific learning strategy and that individualization should not to be seen in opposition or in exclusion to the implementation of an array of different learning arrangements (working with a tutor, working in pairs, working in small groups, large group audiences).
As underlined by Romiszowski, "the question is not whether to use group or individual study methods, but when to use which" (Romiszowski A. J., 1981).
Referring to point (2) (individualized pace), it has been generally agreed (Bradley B. M. in Roucek J. S. ed., 1966) that "one of the most significant factors in programmed learning is that it allows the students to establish his own pace."
But, it has been also suggested (Hartley J., 1974) that, allowing the learner extra time could result in the rate of learning expanding just to fit the additional time available.
While there is not evidence "to support such a view ... in the context of programmed learning" (Hartley J., 1974), there is some proof of the contrary.
"In the Roanoke experiment ... some of the students completed the equivalent of a year's instruction in algebra in three month's time" (Lysaught J. P. in Roucek J. S. ed, 1966).
In another experiment, young pupils were permitted to work as fast as they wanted without control as to selecting the correct response and this resulted in a great shortening of the time needed to go through a particular topic (but also in an increase in the number of mistakes made) (Bradley B. M. in Roucek J. S., 1966).
All this could suggest that, examining the variable 'self-pacing' in isolation, without linking it, on one side, to the interest in/for the subject, the motivation to learn, the desire to understand and, on the other side, to the outcomes in learning performances, this could produce all sort of experimental results and so give support to ambivalent results.
In the middle of the '60s, in a Symposium on Automation in Education (U.S.A.) it was contended:
"Convincing evidence that programmed instruction is effective for teaching has been accumulated over the past decade as a result of extensive research involving a variety of subject areas and extending from the primary grades through adult education. Results of experimentation ... have almost invariably indicated that it is not only effective but also economical as an instructional medium". (Platter E. E. in Roucek J. S.,1966).
Referring to a number of early experiments, it was argued the fact that "all studies conclude that there is something to be gained by using machine type of instruction. Usually the advantage is expressed in terms of the superior performance of an experimental group (those using teaching devices) over a control group" (Carr W. J. in Smith W. I. and Moore J. W. eds., 1962).
But, in a critical review of some experiments, D. Porter found that, in some cases, the superiority of teaching machines seems to derive from interfering variables as the type of experimental learners selected (i.e. students highly motivated), the novelty effect originated by the machine (i.e. increase of interest), the extra time allowed for the learning to take place (Porter D. in Lumsdaine A. A. and Glaser R., 1960).
Here again, what emerges is the difficulty of isolating the effects produced by only one variable at the time, leading to conflicting evidences produced by unidentified interactions of variables in experiments that are supposed to be identical (Cronbach L. J., 1975).
For instance, as far as self-pacing is concerned, Hartley put forward the views that experiments from about 20 studies "which have compared the results obtained from learners working through programs at their own rate with those obtained when the rate of working has been determined by some external agent (e.g. by a tape slide presentation) ... reveal a wealth of non-significant differences in test performances (Hartley J., 1974).
But, Craytor and Lysaught "found evidence that anticipated differences among students could be forestalled because the self-pacing feature in self-instruction permitted slower student to overcome learning problems and achieve as much, over time, as their more gifted peers" (Lysaught J. P. in Roucek J. S. ed., 1966).
And, in one of the earliest research in programmed learning, Porter, in his experimental work, found that "allowing the students to vary their learning rates resulted in uniform 100% mastery of elementary spelling words" (Lysaught J. P. in Roucek J. S. ed., 1966).
What could be generally remarked is that, while in some/many cases and with some/many individuals, machines assist in producing better performances, this does not always occur because of, inter alia, the very differences in individuals and in their learning experiences. For this reason, the claim of an overall undisputed superiority of these instructional devices (other than the fact that they offer additional learning assistance) cannot be supported. Further on, as it will stressed later, a claim of this sort would be in open contradiction with the individualization/personalization these devices help to achieve (in conjunction with many other learning resources).
While experiments and debates went on to ascertain and discuss the effects of the use of technological devices in learning, two new aspects came into the foreground.
First of all, the achieved individualization (each learner working on his/her own and at his/her own pace) was considered a condition necessary but not sufficient for a real improvement in individual learning processes.
It was highlighted the fact that individualization did not mean personalization and it was pointed out that, "despite an apparent diversity in design, most teaching machines had one characteristic in common: a relative inflexibility of operation. With a given set of instructional materials in the machine, each student working with the machine would receive the same sequence of items, regardless of his individual capabilities or limitations" (Coulson J. E. and Silberman H. F. in Smith W. I. and Moore J. W. eds., 1962).
This means that, "in linear programming the only individualization that the student receives is that he may work through the material at the pace which suits him best. There is no way that he may receive material different from that received by any other student" (O'Shea T. and Self J., 1987).
At the same time, linear programmed learning and teaching machines were becoming challenged by more flexible programs (e.g. branching programs) and more powerful devices (e.g. computers).
These two innovations were both supporting and stressing another important aspect of the learning process, that of personalization.
While Skinner went on attempting to refine his idea of teaching machines and linear programmed learning, N. A. Crowder suggested the preferability of a different type of program that suited better the different exigencies of each individual. He referred to it as "intrinsic" program (Crowder N. A., 1958) but it is better known as a "branching" program (Carr W. J., 1959).
As commented by Carr "the branches would permit the learner to retrace his steps back through that portion of the program which his errors indicate that he did not adequately learn" (Carr W. J., 1959).
The rationale behind it lays on the belief that "an ideal sequence of items for one student would be less than maximally effective for some other student" (Coulson J. E. and Silberman H. F., 1961).
This led to the production of 'scrambled books' (Fry E., 1960) in which the sequence of progressing is not linear but is determined by the learner's state of assimilation of the material presented, so that it could be different for each individual.
Mechanical devices were also produced to allow for this flexibility, labelled by the members of the 'Automated Teaching Project' (USA 1959), "machine responsiveness" (Coulson J. E. and Silberman H. F., 1961).
Because of this twofold possibility of presentation (book - machine), it could be said that, up to the early '60s, all the mechanical devices introduced to enhance learning could, almost equally well, be in the form of a book (linear programmed textbook, scrambled book) and many were produced like that.
Galanter, for instance, suggested that "a teaching machine is nothing more than a page turning device for use with a new kind of book" (Platter E. E. in Roucek S. ed., 1966).
But it has been subsequently remarked that while "branching machines ... present material clearly and efficiently ... the alternative text presentation in a 'scrambled' book form tends to be difficult in use and is almost designed to arouse hostility" (Romiszowski A. J., 1974).
This is especially the case when the program offers a high level of personalization, that is, when the series of branching sequences are more numerous and more complex to handle. At this stage a machine seems a more appropriate way of assisting and facilitating learning.
As far as the assessment of performances is concerned, experiments have been made with regard to:
i) Linear Programs vs. Branching Programs
In some experiments it was found that "linear and branching programmes on the same topic are equally effective" (Leith G. O. M., 1966). In others, the analysis of test scores "showed a significant difference between the optional branching group and the fixed sequence group in favour of branching" (Coulson J. E. and Silberman H. F., 1961).
ii) Scrambled Books vs. Branching Machines
A series of experiments conducted during the '60s (Leedham, Holt and Hammock, Eigen, Widlake) found no significant differences between the two modes of presentation (Leith G. O. M., 1966).
Contrasting these findings, "the experiences of the Royal Navy (U.K.) in their early experiments on programmed instruction indicated that scrambled books were not as effective as Autotutor versions of the same programme" (Romiszowski A. J., 1974).
Given this variety of results, it could be argued that all these experiments were strongly affected by a series of exogenous variables, for instance by the way (positive or negative) the novelty effects influenced the learner. For example, people strongly accustomed to books could be not at ease with other teaching devices and react unfavourably. In other cases, when no significant differences emerged, it could be argued that, also if the modes of presentation were different (book - machine), the early ways of presentation were not very dissimilar (i.e. both book-like) because of the constraints imposed by the level of technology achieved.
Because of this ambivalent findings, the only general conclusion that some authors (Coulson J. E. and Silberman H. F., 1961) deemed could be put forward was that "experience with the manual devices clearly indicated the desirability of more automatic equipment capable of controlling complex patterns of instructional variables".
Following the same conviction, the members of the 'Automated Teaching Project' (USA, 1959) expressed their belief that "a computer-based machine could offer maximal responsiveness to individual differences as well as high degree of flexibility as an experimental tool" (Coulson J. E. and Silberman H. F., 1961).
By the end of the '60s, the mechanical teaching machines of the '50s and early '60s, then gave way to an array of learning devices amongst which computers (devices for electronic data processing) started to play an increasing and substantial role.
The '70s could be considered the time in which computers enter schools and universities.
In the USA two major projects were funded by the 'National Science Foundation': TICCIT (Time-shared Interactive Computer Controlled Information Television, 1971) and PLATO IV (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operation, 1976).
Both projects stressed the 'personalization' aspects of instruction.
TICCIT, for example, in the words of its originators, "lays great emphasis on the fact that its course material is learner controlled" (Mitre Corporation, 1976, in O'Shea T. and Self J. A., 1987).
A review of PLATO at the University of Delaware (USA), highlighted the fact that the program "encourages students to tailor their learning experiences to meet their own objectives" (Hofstetter F.T. in Lewis R. and Tagg E. D. eds., 1980).
Although avoiding going into a technical presentation of these and other systems, it is however necessary to clarify what is meant for learner control and, generally, for the personalization achieved at this stage.
To illustrate this aspect, the image of scale or continuum has been frequently employed (Atkinson R. C., 1967; Moonen J., 1980).
As expressed by Moonen, a computer assisted learning (CAL) system can be implemented starting from two different viewpoints that could be seen as extremes on a continuum.
"At the one end of the continuum we have CAL system that always reacts to the answer a student has given to questions put to him by the system". This 'responsiveness' leads to "many possible and mostly very complicated schemes, but a computer can handle those without difficulty". This is the type of branching program personalization seen previously.
"At the other end of the continuum the CAL system ... reacts to the commands a student gives in order to control the progression of the program" (Moonen J. in Lewis R. and Tagg E. D. eds., 1980).
This could be thought of as more free exploration of learning materials.
Moonen defines the former "computer control" and the latter "learner control" systems; but, a part from the labels employed (the first could be as well called "drill and practice" and the second "browsing and inquiring), what is important to remark is that both, although in different ways, bring personalization to learning processes.
In a review of the CAL system implemented at the University of Ontario (Canada), the authors pointed out that "teacher and student control was provided by these tools and coursewares (i.e. Cannet Communication System), allowing modes of use of the system to meet local needs" (McLean R. S. and Olivier W. P. in Lewis-Tagg eds., 1980).
In practical terms this meant the implementation of three possible ways of action:
- - computer program control (selection of the full computerized course);
- teacher control (selection of parts of the course by the teacher);
- learner control (selection of parts of the course by the learner).
This last option could be performed using a structured command language which is accessed by menu selection. "Thus a student can define when he wants to take a test, have the computer generate examples of a particular concept, receive instruction at various levels, enquire as to his status with respect to course completion, have the computer define terms, etc." (McLean R.S. and Olivier W.P., 1980).
However, as pointed out by Hartley, the responsibility for the control of the program should be related to the level of competence of the student (Moonen J. in Lewis-Tagg eds., 1980).
In fact, a high level of personalization, intended as full learner control, is not always the best solution in Computer Assisted Learning.
Even so, apart from certain limitations and specifications, CAL programs and the related personalization of learning processes, have been found performing successfully in most cases.
The assessment about the effectiveness of a program has been generally based on :
- learner's performances (level of testable learning achievements, time to reach that level);
- learner's satisfaction and involvement in using the device.
Under both these aspects, positive results have emerged in experiments and researches conducted in areas as different as Leeds (U.K.), Leiden (Netherlands), Pretoria (South Africa), Toronto (Canada), Newark, Delaware and New York, New York (USA) (Lewis R. and Tagg E. D. eds., 1980; Smith C. P. and Zimmerman B. J., 1988).
The positive results seem to be directly linked , in large measure, to the 'personalization' these devices (machines and programs) are capable of achieving.
Certainly no experiment could claim to offer conclusive evidence of CAL overall superiority because, as previously remarked, computers are not the answer for every learner in every learning process.
It would run against the 'personalization' computers are intended to enhance in conjunction with an array of human/technological resources.
Moreover, given the pace of innovation, the assessment derived from the testing of a specific learning tool become rapidly superseded by the changes introduced in the learning tool itself (economic affordability, user's friendliness, program versatility, power of performances).
During the '80s a new trend has emerged in CAL that is intended to condense and coalesce, under the mastery of a Central Unit, a series of different learning media and the functions they perform.
This trend will be examined for what it provides in terms of 'integration' of learning processes.
Besides this germination of CAL experiences, the '70s saw the introduction and the spreading of a vast array of media used as learning devices. Evidence of this can be drawn by the number of books and textbooks on media in education that represent not only an indication of the increasing popularity of audio-visual instructional devices but also a vehicle for their further popularization (Gerlach and Ely, 1971; Brown, Lewis and Harcleroad, 1973; Romiszowski, 1974; Schramm, 1977; Heidt, 1978).
Most of them bear on the cover the word 'system' or 'systematic', to mean that each medium is viewed as part of a whole network of interrelated elements (i.e. other media, the learner, the human expert, the learning environment).
As expressed in a report to the United States Congress by the Committee on Instructional Technology : "... instructional technology goes beyond any particular medium or device. In this sense instructional technology is more than the sum of its parts. It is a systematic way of designing, carrying out and evaluating the total process of learning and teaching in terms of specific objectives, based upon research in human learning and communication, and employing a combination of human and non human resources to bring about more effective instruction ..." (in Brown, Lewis and Harcleroad, 1973).
From an analysis of the literature on the use of instructional media, three phases could be detected leading, finally, to integration :
In the first phase media are chosen on an individual basis to perform a defined delimited task. This is the period in which media are classified in quite elaborate taxonomies (Schramm, 1977; Heidt, 1978) whose aim is to provide a guidance for the selection of the specific device most suitable for a specific teaching/learning process, having taken into account a series of aspects (e.g. the characteristics of the learner, the domain of learning, the objectives of learning).
In this sense, as far as the selection is concerned, there is a coordination among media.
In the second phase there is a move towards interconnecting instructional devices in order to offer a richer pattern of teaching.
The most common example is the tape-slide system that matches audio and visual learning units (Brown, Lewis, Harcleroad, 1973).
It is during this phase that computers did begin to play a directive role in interrelating different media.
In the third phase, media are integrated into each other in a single device managed by the Central Memory of a computer.
As pointed out by Barker and Yeates, "in contrast to the single-medium approach to instruction, an integrated multimedia system is one in which several different presentational channels are used (either simultaneously or in sequence) in order to implement a particular instructional strategy" (Barker P. and Yeates H., 1985).
This integration, variously referred to as Intermedia or Multimedia CAL, has a twofold nature according to various authors (Barker P. and Yeates H., 1985; Barker P., 1987; Black T. R., 1987) :
i) integration of media
ii) integration of modes.
i) Integration of media
A multimedia system offers, within the same instructional device, a combined possibility of:
- seeing: text, images, animation (typewriter, slide-projector, video player);
- hearing: sound, voices (tape player);
- doing: inputting-outputting audio-visual data and simulating their interaction.
The integration of media is the support that makes possible another kind of integration.
ii) Integration of modes
Modes of instruction refer to the functions a program can perform in assisting the learner (Barker P., 1987).
- Presentation. Introducing learning materials in a defined pattern.
- Drill and Practice. Exercising the learner in mastering the skills needed.
- Tutorial and Dialogue. Presenting learning materials in a more flexible and interactive way, using variable questioning approaches.
- Inquiry and Browsing. Providing the learner with a base of stored information through which he can freely navigate.
- Simulation and Games. Allowing for experimenting different courses of action and learning from the consequences.
- Problem Solving. Offering a framework of rules and data to assist in the process of learning while discovering.
- Testing and Monitoring. Keeping a record of the learner's achievements and, on that basis, suggesting personalized learning pathways.
During the '80s, there has been an increasing range of experiences where a Multimedia approach has been implemented.
Some systems have been devised, for training purposes, on behalf of large Companies (Texaco, BP, Digital Equipment Corporation, Air Canada, etc.) or public Institutions (US Naval Training Centre) for presenting and simulating technical operations (e.g. shipping, flight, refinery, etc.) (Barker P. and Yeates H., 1985).
Others refer to an academic environment (Universities, Polytechnics), and to the entire range of academic subjects (Barker P., 1987).
In CBT (Computer Based Training) the superiority of the systems has been assessed in:
- economic terms, that is, in the saving of financial means that otherwise should have been allocated to hire a large number of highly expensive human instructors;
- training terms, that is, in providing better training opportunities (e.g. simulation) that no human instructor could offer other than in a very theoretical way.
Referring to one of these systems, IVIS (Interactive Video Information System), Barker and Yeates state that Digital Equipment Corporation who implemented it "... have made several comparison of its performance.
Their experiences ... have shown that IVIS trained students learn up to 53% faster - and with better retention - than students trained by conventional methods" (Barker P. and Yeates H., 1985).
In CAVIS (Computer Audiovisual Instruction System) employed by BP International for training in subjects ranging from accountancy and budgetary control to oil refinery and safety at work, "the teaching efficiency is regarded as being in the range of 80-100% mastery of content" (Barker P. and Yeates H., 1985).
In CAL, while there is strong confirmation of the usefulness (in terms of learning performances) of the use of conventional instructional media (radio, TV, slides, etc.) (Schramm W., 1977), referring to the latest experiences (Multimedia CAL), there is not yet a great amount of significant data. Nevertheless, it has been remarked that "in terms of educational effectiveness, it is nowadays commonly accepted that the merits of a single medium (or channel) of instruction are often far less than those of a system in which several media are used" (Barker P., 1987).
One of the areas where experiments have been performed is that of 'retention', in which the use of integrated learning systems appears to offer great superiority with respect to more conventional unidimensional devices.
As stated by Baker, "in the context of information retention the following figures
textbooks 30 per cent
lectures 40 per cent
multimedia methods 80-90 per cent
are presented as being typical of those reported by many 'teaching effectiveness' surveys" (Barker P., 1987).
Digital Equipment Corporation, in a research paper, has contended that people remember
- 25% of what they hear,
45 % of what they hear and see and
70% of what they hear, see and do.
This statement shows many similarities to the old Chinese saying :
- If I hear I know
If I see I remember
If I do I understand.
What a multimedia CAL system aims to achieve is exactly this integration of hearing/seeing/doing for a better retention and a deeper understanding.
How important this integration is, has been remarked by Miller and Gildea investigating the way children learn words (Miller G. A. and Gildea P. M.,1987). According to them, the key factor is to situate words in intelligible context, that means, to link the definition to a practical use (e.g. in a sentence) and to a visualization of the use of the word (e.g. images, animation). They state that an interactive video display (in which this kind of integration could be easily implemented) can mobilize the natural ability of a child to learn from context.
Considering that "acquiring their first language is the most impressive intellectual feat many people will ever perform" (Miller G. A. and Gildea P. M., 1987), it seems that the path of integration of learning processes assisted by electronic devices should be well worth pursuing.
The next chapter will
- introduce the hypothesis that a learning tool (courseware) supporting and promoting individualization/ personalization/ integration of learning processes in the area of problem dealing (research, design and planning), would generally lead to an increased efficiency in learning performances and in the problem dealer's skills.
- clarify the skills that the problem dealer (e.g. researcher) needs to enhance.
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