Online Learning and Metacognition: A Design Framework

Online Learning and Metacognition: A Design Framework

Geraldine Torrisi-Steele (Griffith University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9577-1.ch010
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Online learning experiences are becoming the norm for an increasing number of higher education students. Although there are clear advantages to online learning in terms of flexibility and access, many students struggle to succeed, especially in purely online learning environments. To a large extent student success in online learning environments is dependent on students' ability to self-regulate and ‘learn for themselves'- both abilities related to academic metacognition. Unfortunately, even at university, many students do not have well developed metacognition. It is therefore important to consider carefully metacognitive scaffolding in the design of online learning experiences. However, the models of instructional design commonly used in online learning tend not to place great emphasis on the importance of metacognitive scaffolding. The aim of the present chapter is therefore to increase awareness of metacognition, as one of the important considerations in the design of online learning environments that can help to maximize chances of student success. Towards this end, a framework of instructional design that is more sensitive to metacognition is developed.
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It is highly likely that post-secondary students will experience online learning to some extent; whether it be a fully online program of study, an online course in a campus-based program, or blended courses involving both online and face-to-face components. To further emphasize the scale of online learning, the number of students, according to IPEDS data undertaking distance online education in the United States in 2013 is roughly 5.5million (of which about 2.6million are fully online) and approximately 70% of administrators agree that online education is critical to the institution’s long term strategy (Allen & Seaman, 2015).

Although the pervasiveness and popularity of online learning is quite evident, the effectiveness of online learning and the nature of student online experience is less evident, and is subsequently the subject of a large volume of literature. Commonly, the effectiveness and experience in online courses is examined by comparing student experiences and learning outcomes between courses offered face-to-face and those offered online, or in blended modes. Salamonson and Lantz (2005) for example, compared levels of student satisfaction with blended courses as opposed to traditional face-to-face courses finding high levels of student satisfaction in courses using blended approaches. Other studies such as those by Holley and Oliver (2010), Lust, Vanderwaetere, Ceulemans, Elen and Clarebout (2011), Mitchell and Forere (2010), and Richardson and Turner (2000) consider how individual differences among students contributed to differing levels of student satisfaction in online or blended courses. Yet Other studies consider effectiveness of blended approaches by comparing learning performance, the reactions of ‘experimental’ group of students exposed to blended learning techniques to a ‘control’ group exposed traditional face-to-face teaching only. Learning performance was generally assessed by pre- and post- test scores (EL-Deghaidy & Nouby, 2008).

The results of online effectiveness and/or online student experience studies are mixed. Some studies report a more positive student experience and better or equal learning outcomes in online learning environments than in face-to-face learning (for example, Vernadakis, Antoniou, Giannousi, Zetou, & Kioumourtzoglou, 2011; EL-Deghaidy & Nouby, 2008; Haripersad & Naidoo, 2008); while others report a decline or no difference in learning outcomes and student experiences (for example, Dell, Low, & Wilker, 2010, Jaggers, 2010).

In attempt to better understand effectiveness of online learning, studies typically seek to identify factors contributing to the effectiveness of online learning and/or to positive student experience (or otherwise) of the online learning experience. Among the commonly cited factors which enhance the student experience are flexibility, convenience of access, collaboration across time and place, increased learner motivation and learner perceptions (Neal, 2001, Roffe 2002).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Metacognition: The capacity of students to exercise some degree of control their own learning processes. Subsequently students then are in a position to manage their own learning outcomes. However in order to exert control over their learning, students need to be aware of their learning processes. There are two complementary components to metacognition: 1) knowledge of cognition (for example, knowledge of factors influencing one’s performance, strategy selection); and 2) regulation of cognition (e.g. goal setting).

Metacognitive Scaffolds: Deliberate teaching strategies or interactions designed specifically to support students’ implementation of metacognitive strategies. Scaffolds may take the form of prompts, questions, guides or sequenced interactions. In the online learning environment there may be multiple sources of scaffolding (instructors, peers, technology)

Instructional Design Model: A guide or framework that highlights the essential elements or considerations that should be taken into account when designing a learning experience. The sequence of various elements and the content of those elements is made explicit. The models are developed on the basis of cognitive theories and pedagogical foundations.

Self-Directed Learning: Refers to learning experiences in which the learner has the primary responsibility for engaging with, planning strategies and pathways in order to successfully complete a learning task.

Online Learning: The implementation of digital technologies to create digital learning experiences on a computer platform. Students may engage in interactions directly with technologies such as visualization tools, database, multimedia interaction; or they may engage in technology mediated interactions with other students or instructors using digital communication tools such forums and discussion groups or social media tools. Online learning may be wholly in an online or virtual environment or may be blended with face-to-face interactions.

Knowledge of Cognition: The knowledge that learners have about themselves. It includes: declarative knowledge (what the learner knows about the topic, and about their own skills and intellectual resources); procedural knowledge (apply declarative knowledge to successfully execute an appropriate procedure or process); and conditional knowledge (assists with selection of strategies and approaches on the basis of the circumstances under which the activity is taking place)

Self-Regulation: A component of metacognition. Refers to the ability of students to exert control over their learning by undertaking activities such as planning, goal setting, strategy selection, monitoring, debugging and evaluation.

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