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Interactive technology for enhancing distributed learning: A study on Weblogs


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In this study, it was investigated whether, and to what extent, Web 2.0 technologies, actually Weblogs, can be a suitable instrument for enhancing the practice of distributed learning. In educational settings, which are based on traditional lectures many students begin serious study shortly before the exam. However, from previous empirical research, it is known that the practice of distributed learning is much more conducive to retaining knowledge than that of massed learning. A 2x2 factorial design (within -- repeated measures) with pre-test and post-test in a real life setting was applied; the study lasted for the whole summer term 2007. Participants were N=28 computer science undergraduates of Graz University of Technology. We randomly assigned them to two groups of equal size: The experimental group given the Weblog treatment are referred to as Group W; whereas the control group with no access are referred to as Group C. Students of group W were instructed to use the Weblog for developing their paper and studying during the lecture and they were requested not to reveal their group affiliation. The results showed that performance scores of group W were significantly higher than that of group C. This demonstrates that Weblogs can be an appropriate instrument to supplement a classical lecture in order to enable deeper processing of information over a longer period of time, consequently resulting in enhanced learning performance.
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Interactive Technology for Enhancing
Distributed Learning: A Study on Weblogs
Andreas Holzinger
Research Unit HCI4MED
Medical University Graz
Auenbruggerplatz 2/V
A-8036 Graz, Austria
Michael D. Kickmeier-Rust
Department of Psychology
University of Graz
Universitaetsplatz 2/III
A-8010 Graz, Austria
Martin Ebner
WG Social Learning
Graz University of Technology
Steyrergasse 30
A-8010 Graz, Austria
In this study, it was investigated whether, and to what extent,
Web 2.0 technologies, actually Weblogs, can be a suitable
instrument for enhancing the practice of distributed learning. In
educational settings, which are based on traditional lectures
many students begin serious study shortly before the exam.
However, from previous empirical research, it is known that the
practice of distributed learning is much more conducive to
retaining knowledge than that of massed learning. A 22
factorial design (within – repeated measures) with pre-test and
post-test in a real life setting was applied; the study lasted for
the whole summer term 2007. Participants were N=28
computer science undergraduates of Graz University of
Technology. We randomly assigned them to two groups of
equal size: The experimental group given the Weblog treatment
are referred to as Group W; whereas the control group with no
access are referred to as Group C. Students of group W were
instructed to use the Weblog for developing their paper and
studying during the lecture and they were requested not to
reveal their group affiliation. The results showed that
performance scores of group W were significantly higher than
that of group C. This demonstrates that Weblogs can be an
appropriate instrument to supplement a classical lecture in
order to enable deeper processing of information over a longer
period of time, consequently resulting in enhanced learning
Categories and Subject Descriptors
K3.1. [Computer Use in Education]: Collaborative learning,
Computer-managed instruction (CMI)
General Terms
Experimentation, Human Factors, Theory
Web 2.0., Weblogs, Distributed Learning, Massed Learning,
Learning Performance.
Research on new media in educational settings is an extremely
broad area: emerging technologies enter education quickly and
often find application well beyond their original intention [3],
[9], [12]. There is a increase in educational technologies and
the influence of these new technologies is relatively high,
however, we must never forget that learning is both a basic
cognitive and social process, and that education cannot be
replaced by technology [12]. Previous research in new media
provided inconsistent and sometimes even contradictory results
on effects of different types of media and their learning
performance [10], [11].
For example, in recent years, Web 2.0 technologies and social
software have increasingly influenced the educational practice
in schools and universities [8], [13]. Especially Weblogs can be
used to support education by encouraging reflective practice
[2], [3] and enabling student-centred approaches [15].
However, empirical research is only sparsely focussed on the
measurable success of such Weblogs [7] and research in real-
life settings is missing.
Consequently, our central question within the present work is
whether Weblogs can contribute towards addressing, and
possibly overcoming the well-known and common problem of
student learning strategies, that is, massed (or crammed)
learning. In typical educational settings, where a longer period
of teaching is completed with some kind of test or exam (e.g.,
traditional classroom lectures), we frequently observed that
students start serious learning rather shortly before the exam;
this may be a week, maybe days, or even hours. During this
final period students learn literally day and night and,
amazingly, they can acquire a substantial amount of
information, which at least suffices to pass the exam. Such
learning strategies are, from both a psycho-pedagogical and
educational perspective, problematic. A large body of research
yielded that the efficiency and, above all, retention over a
longer period of time is significantly impaired by such learning
behaviour [17], [18], [5], [16].
Learning and practising strategies, preferences, or styles can be
defined and characterized in a variety of ways, taxonomies, and
classifications. Probably one of the most simple, yet important
classifications refers to the temporal intensity of learning, that
is, the classification in massed versus distributed learning (or
practising). For example, based on a thorough analysis of the
literature, Lee and Genovese [14] defined those concepts in
terms of pauses between learning and practising trials.
© The Author 2009.
Published by the British Computer Society
HCI 2009 – People and Computers XXIII – Celebrating people and technology
Consequently, massed learning refers to a behaviour wherein
the learners attempt to acquire as much knowledge or as many
skills as possible within a limited period of time and literally
without any intermittent pauses. In turn, the concept of
distributed learning refers to the learning strategy of allocating
learning trials over a larger time interval, including prolonged
breaks and rests. Essentially, results of previous research
indicate that distributed learning is superior to massed learning
(see e.g., [14], [4]).
Baddeley [1], for example, conducted a study, teaching a large
number of postmen to type. The results indicate that one hour
learning sessions on a daily basis reduced the number of
necessary training hours and enabled the participants to
increase typing performance more rapidly than massed learning
sessions. A more recent study by Childers and Tomasello [6]
with a different user group summarizes the gist of the matter.
However, the amount of content that can be learned in a massed
way is amazing and when comparing the learning performance
of massed learning and distributed learning right after learning
sessions, it is probable that the performance will be more or less
identical; however, when comparing retention after a longer
period of time, distributed learning results in substantially
better performance, most of all in a deeper understanding. Of
course, the effects of massed versus distributed learning are
moderated by diverse further variables, for example the type of
learning (cognitive versus motor skills), the complexity of the
learning material, or meaningfulness of the content.
3.1 The Weblog used
Since 2006, Graz University of Technology (approximately ten
thousand students) is using a social networking environment [8]
based on the open source product ELGG (
). A so-
called Blog Sphere was installed and adapted according the
requirements of the university. Students and teachers are able to
establish digital identities and connect to each other,
collaborate with them and discover new resources through their
connections. Figure 1 shows the community blog of the lecture.
The layout can be recognised by blog users as fairly standard,
with a typical student contribution on the left side, while search
possibilities and links to the weblog and bookmarks are on the
right side – together with a list of the members. The original
development of the ELGG was initiated in 2004 by Ben
Werdmuller and Dave Tosh. It has a strongly educational
background and fulfills most requirements of universities,
schools, and scientific institutes.
Figure 1. TU Graz Learnland – Community Weblog
Basically, after the first successful logon, a Weblog is provided
to each single user where data entries can be made. In addition
to text entries, any multimedia content can be published online.
The platform allows the creation of communities for a specific
topic. Students and teachers attending such a community (so
called members) are allowed to blog within the community
blog and exchange their opinions (co-operative blogging).
3.2 Experimental Setting
We carried out a longitudinal study over a complete semester in
the real-life setting of a typical lecture: “Applied Human–
Computer Interaction” (TUG LV 706.046), held by the first
author. The study started on 26
February 2007 and ended on
25th June 2007.
During recent years, it was interesting to observe that students
did not do most of their work continually during the lectures, as
recommended by previous learning research, but – as could be
observed in other lectures as well – at the very end, shortly
before the deadline; where they then worked night and day.
This was the motivation for checking the hypothesis: when we
provide a weblog for one group, and require them to contribute
to this weblog continually during the whole semester, and tell
them that this is of equal worth as the traditional paper writing,
this will encourage continuous learning.
3.3 Participants
A total of 28 students participated: 4 females and 24 males. The
average age was 24 years (SD = 1.33), the youngest participant
was 22, the oldest 27. All participants were undergraduate
computer science students and therefore familiar with Web 2.0
technology in general, and Weblogs in particular.
3.4 Procedure
The students were randomly assigned to one of two equally
sized groups, an experimental group (group W), who were
required to use their personal Weblog related to the lecture and
the subject matter during the semester. In the control group
(group C), students were not affected by the study and could
perform regularly. The students of group W were instructed not
to communicate the Weblog usage to group C. Internal logging
data showed that all students used the Weblog to some degree.
At the beginning of the semester all students were provided
with the general learning and study strategy inventory (LASSI,
[19]), which is a questionnaire with ten sub-scales that assesses
specific learning and study strategies, predominantly focussing
on meta-skills. In addition, a basic learning styles inventory in
the German language (HALB test) was presented at the
beginning of the semester. To assess the student’s prior
knowledge, a knowledge test scale was conducted, including
ten dichotomous items, eight multiple-choice items, and three
Likert scales. To assess learning performance during the
semester, a written exam was conducted at the end of the
semester. The exam required the students to write and present a
paper about a specific topic. The exam consisted of 20
correct/incorrect judgements, 20 multiple-choice questions, five
free-answer items, and three problem solving tasks. The written
paper made 70% of the grading, the writing exam 30%.
The main focus of this paper is whether learning performance
increases with a more distributed learning strategy by using (or
being required to use) Weblogs in comparison to regular
strategies. In order to ensure a clean distribution, the control
group were monitored in the classroom to avoid any social
A. Holzinger et al.
HCI 2009 – People and Computers XXIII – Celebrating people and technology
networking and requested to limit their learning activities to the
tools provided.
For the statistical analysis, we rely on two knowledge tests,
which were of course identical in the pre-test and the post-test;
first a ten item dichotomy (yes/no) judgment test (T1) and
second, an eight item multiple choice knowledge test (T2).
Each of the multiple choice items had four alternatives, where
at each item none, one, or more of the alternatives could be
correct, to decrease the probability of guessing.
As expected, no differences in the test scores were found in the
pre-tests at the beginning of the semester. In group W the mean
score was 2.31 (SD = 1.11) for test T1 and 0.92 (SD = 1.44) for
test T2. Similarly, in group C the mean score was 2.77 (SD =
1.01) for test T1 and 1.15 (SD = 1.95) for test T2 (Figure 2). A
normal distribution test (Kolmogorow-Smirnov) proved the
normal distribution of the data. Subsequently, an analysis of
variance (ANOVA) revealed non-significant differences
between both groups for T1 (F(1, 24) = 1.227, p = .279) and T2
(F(1, 24) = .118, p = .735). At the end of the semester, a clear
divergence of results between the experimental group and the
control group could be seen. In the Weblog group W the mean
score was 14.31 (SD = 2.14) for T1 and 15.23 (SD = 4.15) for
T2. In the control group C the mean score was 12.33 (SD =
2.67) for T1 and 12.08 (SD = 4.19) for T2 (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Test scores for both groups (W, C) and both tests
(T1, T2) at the beginning and the end of the semester.
For further analyses, we used the learning performance, which
was computed as the difference between post-test and pre-test
scores. In group W the mean learning performance was 12.00
(SD = 2.16) for T1 and 14.31 (SD = 3.71) for T2. In group C
the mean learning performance was 9.38 (SD = 2.87) for T1
and 10.46 (SD = 2.83) for T2.
For both blocks of items, group W yielded a higher learning
performance (Figure 3). An ANOVA revealed on the 5%-level
significant differences between the experimental group and the
control group for both tests (T1: F(1, 24) = 6.881, p = .015; T2:
F(1, 24) = 5.917, p = .023).
Figure 3. Learning performance for both groups (W, C)
and both tests (T1, T2)
In addition, we asked the students for their opinion about the
quality of existing learning material in the field of the lecture
(i.e., applied human-computer interaction). The average quality
rating on a percentage scale (where 100% means best quality)
was 73.92 (SD = 13.89), which is a quite good judgment.
Moreover, we asked the students whether they thought that
multimedia material is more beneficial for learning than simple
textbook lessons.
The average rating, again on a percentage scale, was 58.92 (SD
= 18.80), which is a medium value, yet quite alarming for
educational designers. Overall, the judgments in these questions
did not influence the participants’ learning performance; we
found no correlations (Pearson correlation) with learning
performance in T1 (-0.16) and T2 (0.28).
The presented work supported our hypothesis (section 3.2.) in
that the use of Weblogs does facilitate and stimulate a more
distributed learning behaviour.
This result provides an indication that Weblogs can be an
appropriate instrument to improve learning performance by
supplementing traditional lecturing.
The students who were required to use Weblogs during the
semester did perform significantly better than the students who
relied on their usual learning strategy.
However, at the moment it is unclear whether this result is due
to effects of a more distributed learning or whether publishing
and discussing in Weblogs facilitates a deeper learning.
In future work, we will extend the analyses, particularly with
respect to the effects of learning styles and learning strategies.
A promising and important focus will be the students’
behaviour and the effects of regular pauses, social networking
and the distribution of the learning over longer periods. In
addition, future analysis will investigate specific effects on long
term retention.
Interactive Technology for Enhancing Distributed Learning: A Study on Weblogs
HCI 2009 – People and Computers XXIII – Celebrating people and technology
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HCI 2009 – People and Computers XXIII – Celebrating people and technology
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In our e-Society the concept of Life Long Learning (LLL) is not merely a buzz word but a necessity. Pervasive e-Education is a challenging way to assist both Life Long Learning and Continuing Engineering Education (CEE). However, research in these areas must bridge the gap between Psychology and Computer Science. Furthermore, research and development must be carried out together. Whichever perspective you take into account, pervasive e-Education requires a complete independence of location – which is more than just being mobile. Text, image, audio, video via Desktop, Television, Pocket-PC, iPod, Mobile Phone – each and every medium and terminal has individual advantages and disadvantages. However, this purely technological perspective is not yet enough. Every Learning Object (LO) must be adjusted to the needs and requirements of the learners and, most of all, it must correspond to a model of psychological learning and motivation including cognitive style, learning strategy and preliminary knowledge. In this paper, we concentrate on our first experiences with X-Media Learning Objects (XLOs) and on how the standard Learning Management System Moodle delivers the X-Media content and which psychological concepts we consider suitable for the use with XLOs.
High school students enrolled in a French course learned vocabulary words under conditions of either massed or distributed practice as part of their regular class activities. Distributed practice consisted of three 10-minute units on each of three successive days; massed practice consisted of all three units being completed during a 30-minute period on a single day. Though performance of the two groups was virtually identical on a test given immediately after completion of study, the students who had learned the words by distributed practice did substantially better (35%) than the massed- practice students on a second test given 4 days later. The implications of the findings for classroom instruction and the need to distinguish between learning and memory are discussed.
Recent reviews about the effects of distribution of practice in motor learning have produced quite divergent conclusions. While there is agreement that massed practice depresses performance, the effect on learning has no firm consensus. One position is that massed practice depresses learning, although there are many that argue for no learning effect. In the present paper we review this literature. When distribution is considered in terms of the length of the inter-trial interval, there is strong evidence that masses practice depresses performance and learning (when learning is assessed by absolute retention measures). This conclusion was confirmed by the results of a meta-analysis. This finding is discussed relative to other literature on distribution of practice as well as some recent issues in motor learning.
A summary of the Northwestern University researches on the effects of distributed practice in verbal learning and suggested concepts to explain these findings. Distributed practice (DP) is when trial intervals are greater than 15 seconds; massed practice (MP), when intervals are 2-8 seconds. DP enhances learning when a minimal level of interference occurs during response acquisition, since this allows successive extinctions of error tendencies. Under MP, errors are suppressed rather than extinguished. Amount of interference and length of interval are the critical variables; the latter must be shortened as the former increases in order for facilitation to occur. MP causes no impediment when there is interference in associating the stimulus with the response term. Other variables including length of list, single rest intervals, and meaningfulness are evaluated. From Psyc Abstracts 36:04:4CI29U. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
A review of the literature regarding the optimal distribution of work and rest periods in view of determining how and to what extent the various conditions of learning affect the relative economy of different degrees of distribution. Summaries of all the experimental work, covering seven pages in tabular form and discussed in the body of the article, give the reader the outstanding facts. The table heads include: name of experimenter and date of work done; number and age of subjects; type of material or learning problem; length of practice period; time interval between periods; criteria of learning; and results. The conclusion from the summary is that any statement of the value of distributing or massing learning must be qualified carefully in terms of the conditions listed above in view of the instability of the margin of superiority between the two methods of learning being compared. The bibliography contains 39 titles reviewed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
ObjectiveSince simulations are often accepted uncritically, with excessive emphasis being placed on technological sophistication at the expense of underlying psychological and educational theories, we evaluated the learning performance of simulation software, in order to gain insight into the proper use of simulations for application in medical education.DesignThe authors designed and evaluated a software packet, following of user-centered development, which they call Haemodynamics Simulator (HAEMOSIM), for the simulation of complex physiological models, e.g., the modeling of arterial blood flow dependent on the pressure gradient, radius and bifurcations; shear–stress and blood flow profiles depending on viscosity and radius.MeasurementsIn a quasi-experimental real-life setup, the authors compared the learning performance of 96 medical students for three conditions: (1) conventional text-based lesson; (2) HAEMOSIM alone and (3) HAEMOSIM with a combination of additional material and support, found necessary during user-centered development. The individual student’s learning time was unvarying in all three conditions.ResultsWhile the first two settings produced equivalent results, the combination of additional support and HAEMOSIM yielded a significantly higher learning performance. These results are discussed regarding Mayer’s multimedia learning theory, Sweller’s cognitive load theory, and claims of prior research on utilizing interactive simulations for learning.ConclusionThe results showed that simulations can be beneficial for learning complex concepts, however, interacting with sophisticated simulations strain the limitation of cognitive processes; therefore successful application of simulations require careful additional guidance from medical professionals and a certain amount of previous knowledge on the part of the learners. The inclusion of pedagogical and psychological expertise into the design and development of educational software is essential.
Weblogs have recently gained considerable media attention. Leading weblog sites are already attracting millions of visitors. Yet, success in the highly competitive world of weblogs is not easily achieved. This study seeks to explore weblog success from a technology perspective, i.e. from the impact of weblog-building technology (or blogging tool). Based on an examination of 126 highly successful weblogs tracked over a period of 3 months, we categorized weblogs in terms of popularity rank and growth, and evaluated the relationship between weblog success (in terms of popularity) and technology use. Our analysis indicates that weblog success is associated with the type of blogging tool used. We argue that technology characteristics affect the presentation and organization of weblog content, as well as the social interaction between bloggers, and in turn, affect weblog success or popularity improvement. Based on this analysis, we propose a techno-social success model for weblogs. This model postulates that a weblog's success is mainly associated with its ability to provide value for its users and readers at the content, the technology, and the social levels.