The Open Learning Initiative, Scientifically Designed and Feedback Driven eLearning

The Open Learning Initiative, Scientifically Designed and Feedback Driven eLearning

Joel M. Smith (Carnegie Mellon University, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch224
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Abstract

The Open Learning Initiative (OLI) at Carnegie Mellon University is a new evolutionary form of eLearning that derives from a particular tradition in using information and communication technologies (ICT) to deliver instruction. That tradition is distinctive in that it is based on rigorous and consistent application of research results and assessment methodologies from scientific studies of human learning when creating digital learning environments. The tradition is, in fact, a comparatively small part of the overall eLearning landscape. ICT-based learning tools are typically driven by the mere opportunity of leveraging technological possibilities, e.g. the “webifying” traditional textbooks, campus-wide laptop requirements, and podcasting of traditional lectures, or by intuitions of individual instructors about the potential effectiveness of particular eLearning strategies, e.g. an intuition that computer-based graphical simulations of the central limit theorem in statistics will help novice learners understand the meaning and implications of that theorem. While these non-scientific strategies, especially those based on instructor intuitions based on years of experience, have sometimes produced effective eLearning interventions, the success rate is destined to be low because they are not based on well-confirmed theory about learning and they seldom are subjected to any meaningful formative or summative evaluation to provide feedback about whether and how they are working and how they need to be modified to be more effective. The general failure of computer based pedagogical strategies, especially online classes, to bring transformative change to education is evidence of the limited success of these dominant strategies. (For some arguments for over-simplistic thinking in the eLearning domain see: Zemsky and Massey, 2005)
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Introduction

The Open Learning Initiative (OLI) at Carnegie Mellon University is a new evolutionary form of eLearning that derives from a particular tradition in using information and communication technologies (ICT) to deliver instruction. That tradition is distinctive in that it is based on rigorous and consistent application of research results and assessment methodologies from scientific studies of human learning when creating digital learning environments. The tradition is, in fact, a comparatively small part of the overall eLearning landscape. ICT-based learning tools are typically driven by the mere opportunity of leveraging technological possibilities, e.g. the “webifying” traditional textbooks, campus-wide laptop requirements, and podcasting of traditional lectures, or by intuitions of individual instructors about the potential effectiveness of particular eLearning strategies, e.g. an intuition that computer-based graphical simulations of the central limit theorem in statistics will help novice learners understand the meaning and implications of that theorem. While these non-scientific strategies, especially those based on instructor intuitions based on years of experience, have sometimes produced effective eLearning interventions, the success rate is destined to be low because they are not based on well-confirmed theory about learning and they seldom are subjected to any meaningful formative or summative evaluation to provide feedback about whether and how they are working and how they need to be modified to be more effective. The general failure of computer based pedagogical strategies, especially online classes, to bring transformative change to education is evidence of the limited success of these dominant strategies. (For some arguments for over-simplistic thinking in the eLearning domain see: Zemsky and Massey, 2005)

OLI courses also occupy and extend a second distinctive niche in the eLearning tradition. That niche is characterized by using information technology as the primary mode for delivering instruction to novice learners. It should be distinguished from the niches occupied by “learning objects” which tend to target the learning of specific ideas or skills (Mortimer, 2002) and by “OpenCourseWare” which provides access to digital materials used to supplement traditional pedagogical strategies (Long, 2002). We believe the niche of eLearning environments that provide a preponderance of the performance of instruction will grow in importance as the world increasingly looks to information and communication technologies to address the problem of access to, affordability of, and accountability for the effectiveness of education.

A third niche in which the OLI is embedded is the “open educational resources” (OER) movement. (Hylén, 2006) While there have been open educational resources of various kinds for a long time (everything from public libraries to the public lectures on college campuses to educational television), the advent of the Internet substantially changed the possibilities for providing open access to educational materials and instruction. MIT’s OpenCourseWare project brought particular attention and focus OERs. Today, sources ranging from the Internet Archive to Apple™ Computer’s iTunes U™ to the Universal Library to individual colleges and universities provide freely available educational materials on the web. The OLI is part of this movement in that all OLI courses are freely available to individual learners anywhere in the world. The OER movement is heterogeneous and self-organizing. However, increasingly, through the help of many individuals, institutions, and foundations such as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (which funds the OLI) and the A.W. Mellon Foundation, delivering open educational resources has become part of the strategic thinking of the world’s educational leaders when they consider how to meet the access and quality demands we will face this century.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Formative Assessment: Assessment designed to provide regular, ongoing feedback about an intervention to determine what is successful and what is unsuccessful about the intervention relative to its goals; it takes place as the intervention is taking place.

Intelligent Tutoring System: An artificially intelligent computer-based system for presenting problems to students, tracking their responses, and given them feedback about their mistakes as they work through the problems.

Cognitive Science: The study of human cognition. Its methodologies are wide ranging, including empirical studies of human learning; studies of artificial intelligence, and, more recently, some results from neuroscience.

eLearning: Instructional techniques that use information and communication technologies as tools to enable and enhance learning.

Cognitive Tutor: An intelligent tutoring system based on cognitive models consistent with John Anderson’s “ACT-R” theory of human cognition.

Authentic Problems: Problems of the kind that practitioners in a discipline actually encounter. These contrast with may of the homework problems one finds in the “back of the textbook,” which are manufactured and abstracted from the complexities of real world contexts.

Summative Assessment: Assessment that takes place after an intervention takes place that assessed whether it had the desired effect or not.

Learning Sciences: The range of sciences that theorize about and study human learning. The methodologies are more wide ranging than those of cognitive science.

Targeted Feedback: Feedback that has content based on specific mistakes made by students who are engaged in an assessment of their learning. It is the kind of feedback a human tutor gives when watching a student solve problems. The feedback is directed to specific errors rather than simply reporting that a student has solved the problem correctly or incorrectly.

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