Integrating Knowledge of Cognitive System and E-Learning Applications

Integrating Knowledge of Cognitive System and E-Learning Applications

George Spanoudis (University of Cyprus, Cyprus) and Eleni A. Kyza (Cyprus University of Technology, Cyprus)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-392-0.ch005
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This chapter outlines key findings of cognitive and developmental psychology which could be used as a theoretical framework to guide the design and research of e-learning applications. The chapter consists of two main sections. The first section presents the basic cognitive mechanisms and their development, while the second part discusses how our knowledge of the cognitive system can guide the design of computer-based learning environments. It is proposed that the human mind is organized in three levels: two of them are general-purpose mechanisms and processes and one consists of domainspecific structures of knowledge representation and problem solving processes. These three levels are associated with an effective learning framework. The suggested framework describes the basic points that any designer of e-learning environments must consider. The second section of the chapter discusses e-learning, connecting it to knowledge about the human cognitive system. In this section, we first present the conceptual bounds of the e-learning construct and discuss how cognitive theories of learning should guide the design of technologically-enhanced learning environments. It is proposed that a synergy between the study of human cognition and the design of e-learning applications is required for effectively understanding both fields.
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In the last decades the world has witnessed an ‘electronic revolution’. It is widely argued that the transition from the ‘industrial’ to the so-called ‘information’ society has been made possible by the development of novel information and communication technologies (Castells, 2000). New technologies, and especially computers, have dramatically altered both thinking and acting in almost all fields of human activity (Gentile & Walsh, 2002). Hence, it is critical to understand the changes which are being brought about by the introduction of communication and information technologies in order to maximize their benefits and minimize their shortcomings.

Nowadays, we use computers for learning (e.g. educational software), entertainment (e.g. animations, cartoons), communicating (e.g. electronic mail), or performing complex tasks, such as calculations and graphing, storing multi-layer information, text reading and writing, special scientific tasks, etc. (Gentile & Walsh, 2002). It is estimated that nearly half (48%) of all children six and under have used computers and that more than one in four (30%) have played video games (Rideout, Vanderwater, & Wartella, 2003). The impact of computers on modern societies is so vast and multifarious that our age has arguably been called the ‘electronic age’.

Education is one of the fields of human endeavor most affected by the electronic revolution. The impact of computer technologies on children’s cognitive, social and emotional development has been the subject of systematic research in the last decades. This research produced a number of myths and debates concerning the possibilities and dangers resulting from the introduction and extensive use of computers and its related applications in education. Some scholars even go to the extreme by arguing that the use of computers is linked to numerous disadvantages like low self-esteem, low intelligence, exposure to undesirable material, aggression, and obesity (Rocheleau, 1995; Roe & Muijs, 1998), whereas others suggest the exact opposite and stress the importance of outcomes, such as higher academic achievement and cognitive skills (Healy, 1998). Some could attribute such apparent inconsistencies and contradictory findings to the complexity and novelty of the field. However, most researchers would entirely agree on the need for the development of a theoretical framework for understanding the effects of computers on human mind and society.

The present chapter aims to outline key findings of cognitive and developmental psychology which could be used as a theoretical framework to guide the design and research of e-learning applications. The chapter proceeds as follows. First, we describe the basic mechanisms of cognition and their development. Then we explore the concept of learning and how one could utilize theory and research results from cognitive psychology, in order to design and implement e-learning environments. The chapter will conclude with a synopsis of essential parameters that a designer of web-based environments must take into account when s/he plans the content, representations and interactional features for a computer-based learning environment.

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