Instructional Support for Collaborative Activities in Distance Education

Instructional Support for Collaborative Activities in Distance Education

Bernhard Ertl (Universität der Bundeswehr München, Germany)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 10
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch217

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Distance education is facing many challenges nowadays. One of them relates to a different perspective on knowledge: Current policies and economies emphasize the need for lifelong learning and the learners' ability to apply their knowledge in working contexts. Furthermore, knowledge is nowadays one of the motors of economy and several of the world's most valuable companies merely sell goods based on knowledge (like software) rather than physical products. Authors reflect this impact of knowledge by the usage of terms like knowledge society (e.g. Nonaka, 1994) or knowledge age (e. g. Bereiter, 2002). Even if information and communication technologies allow access to an indefinite amount of information, it is up to the learners to develop key skills to information processing and exchange to transform the information to personal and shared knowledge. According to the European Commission (2007), such kind of digital literacy is therefore the key skill of the current century. But knowledge society does not only require learners to develop digital literacy, it also requires individuals as well as the whole society to engage permanently in keeping their knowledge up to date—a process of continuous knowledge generation (see Nonaka, 1994). Thereby, it is not more sufficient to just acquire knowledge; learners also have to get familiar with skills regarding knowledge construction, exchange, and rebuilding. This has also consequences for distance education because it has to overcome traditional teacher-student scenarios in which a teacher passes “knowledge” to learners who try to memorize and rehearse. To meet the requirements of knowledge society, distance education needs a new perspective on learning and teaching (see Ertl, Winkler, & Mandl, 2007).

Moderate constructivist approaches provide such perspective and focus on particular learner activities that are necessary for learners’ individual and collaborative knowledge construction. They build on learners' active knowledge construction and postulate that learning requires learners' active participation. Approaches like situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991) or cognitive apprenticeship (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989) describe this new kind of relation between learners and the learning environment. This is in contrast to traditional approaches, which set learners in a receptive role. According to constructivist approaches, learning is mediated by learners' individual prior knowledge, their motivation and other individual learning prerequisites. Reinmann-Rothmeier and Mandl (2001) describe several key-elements for construction of knowledge according to this philosophy (see also Ertl et al., 2007). They state that a learning process is

  • Active, because only active involvement enables learning.

  • Self-directed and learners have to take active control and responsibility for their learning activities.

  • Constructivist, which means that learners have to embed new knowledge in their existing knowledge structures.

  • Social and knowledge acquisition requires a social context.

  • Situated because knowledge acquisition happens in a specific context and is linked to this context.

  • Emotional; the emotional component is particularly important for the motivation of the learners.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Knowledge Construction: Learners' work with their knowledge in a way that they link their new knowledge to their existing knowledge base instead of memorizing facts.

Script: Specification of learning processes which contains procedural aspects, the assignment of roles and the evocation of beneficial cognitive activities.

Powerful Learning Environment: A learning environment which includes instructional elements that evoke learners' active construction of knowledge.

Learning Environment: Learners' context in distance education courses that is comprised of instructional, social and technical aspects.

Content Scheme: Tabular representation of domain-specific structure to facilitate learners.

Collaborative Knowledge Construction: Learners' joint activities to acquire or create new knowledge.

Instructional Design: The didactical rationale for a learning scenario which includes instructional elements as well as the application of tools.

Collaboration: Tightly working together with a strong commitment of collaboration partners.

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