Daniel Staemmler

Things about eLearning, Educational Technology, and more…

Problems and Obstacles with Online Learning (2/4)

Before going into detail on some criteria for selecting appropriate learning content, here a quick outline of problems and obstacles that learners might encounter when learning online. Once learners utilizing new information and communication technologies, they might encounter two fundamental problems. On the one hand this is the problem of orientation and on the other of cognitive overload.

Disorientation of Users

The problem of users disorientation is closely tied to his navigation behavior in structured network systems online. As such, for instance, the Internet in its entirety is referred to with its many individual web pages containing different content (text, graphics, video, animation, etc.) that are linked with each other.

Due to the depth of information it can be hard for the user to identify his precise position within the variety of the content presented, and secondly to actual determine his state of his learning progress. Therefore the problem of orientation is very closely linked to cognitive overload. An obvious conclusion is to put more emphasis onto the structure, in a sense of predefined navigation, in order to minimize the users orientation problems in online (learning) environments.

This seems contradicting, since a certain degree of disorientation can be considered very useful for discovery-based learning. A strong pre-structured navigation sequence results in a user behavior, which is rather determined form the outside than self-determined. Due to this determination individual learning differences are not taken into account, more so those of a third party/ person (e.g. designers, programmers, etc.) who sketches out learning paths. It is rather desirable, that the learner can choose independently from several options available the one who will unlock the learning content for him. For students with no or little experience in learning with new media, it is advisable to offer a predefined learning path which helps them to orient themselves. Good mechanisms to support the learners orientation are for instance tables of contents, indexes, maps, and “fish-eye” perspectives which highlight important parts and reduced the unimportant in size or faded color.

Cognitive overload

Mentioned earlier, there is a correlation between the disorientation in online (learning) systems and cognitive overload. This problem occurs because the user always has to keep in mind and remember the system learning/ working in. Meaning the user must constantly be aware of: “Where have I been already? What did I already read? How and in what way did I get there, what kind of information do I still have to look into and how can I get there?” Storing all this information has nothing to do with the actual process of information acquisition and processing learning content. However, a quiet large part of memory capacity is needed to store this secondary information and demands additional attention.

Part I: E-Learning: Choosing the right Learning System and Learning Content
Part 2: Problems and Obstacles with Online Learning
Part 3: Particular Design for Online Courses (coming soon)
Part 4: What is Interactivity and Interaction? (coming soon)

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