Preferred Learning Tools in Online Mathematics Classes: Digital College Learners

Preferred Learning Tools in Online Mathematics Classes: Digital College Learners

Ana M. Porro (Palm Beach State College, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2955-4.ch005


The review of the literature on the role of instructional strategies in online mathematics learning addresses the following major areas and their related subsets: motivation and academic success; online learning and andragogy; and instructional design and learning strategies. It is noted that the hypothesis that motivational strategies promote achievement and success in online mathematics courses is supported by recent investigators who suggested the need to research the effectiveness of incorporating motivational strategies in the implementation of online instructional designs (Bellon & Oates, 2002; Kelsey & D’Souza, 2004; Patall, et al., 2008; Sanacore, 2008; Skinner, 2005). Additionally, the limited role documented on motivation in online mathematics courses by both mathematicians and educators is included. Next, discussions of online learning, andragogy and learning theories, learners’ characteristics and heuristics in interpersonal and cognitive tools are addressed. Lastly, laying the foundation of theory into practice, considerations for instructional designs are included along with suggestions for design and implementation of learning strategies.
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There is a rapid growth in the use of technology in all aspects of society. Colleges have embraced technology in all operations including administration, communications, human resources, accountability, and teaching and learning. As colleges incorporated technology into teaching and learning, it was often the technology that provided the direction. This was frequently done without any evidence-based decision-making. Many organizations developed distance-learning programs without regard to their effectiveness or suitability to the learning needs of their audience. Research on the effectiveness of distance learning classes often lagged far behind their implementation. In recent years, however, the focus has shifted from efforts to rapidly develop distance-learning classes to refinement. The efficiency and effectiveness of distance learning programs is now being closely examined as instructional design strategies are incorporated into online instruction (Salas, Kosarzycki, Burke, & Stone, 2002).

As more institutions develop and deliver distance-learning classes, researchers have begun to ask more sophisticated and complex questions about this instructional modality. A synthesis of recent studies on online teaching and learning noted that some of the issues researchers are beginning to investigate are: (a) what motivates students to choose distance learning classes; (b) how learning styles be matched with instructional design; and (c) how to best deliver this type of instruction (Tallent-Runnels, et al., 2006). In addition, the final question remains: what motivates students to succeed in distance learning classes?

Distance education has existed for over a century. As early as 1892, schools and universities initiated offering classes by correspondence using mail or the postal system as a vehicle to reach out those who lived far from higher education institutions, but wanted an education (Monolescu, Schifter, & Greenwood, 2004). As new technologies emerged, distance education opportunities were broadened by radio (1920s), instructional television (1950s), cable television (1970s), satellite downlinks (1970s and 1980s), and videoconferencing through interactive compressed video (1990s).

The term distance-learning is used to describe the interactions in any course that is delivered to students who are not physically present in the same room (Tallent-Runnels, et al., 2006). Although distance learning classes may be delivered in many different formats, this investigation will examine Web-based or online-learning classes, courses that are delivered completely over the Internet via a computer-mediated environment. This delivery method, a common distance learning approach, may interchangeably be referred to as Internet, electronic or elearning, or virtual learning (Bork, 2005, p. 31). In select cases the students may have the opportunity to see and chat with the instructor and other students at a distance. For the purpose of this research, online learning may or may not involve this component.

In the last decade of the twentieth century, Web-based learning grew from being almost absent to suddenly appearing everywhere (Hantula & Pawlowicz, 2004). As the trend in virtual enrollment continues in colleges and universities, the need to understand adult learners surges in an effort to compete effectively in a global community. To remain competitive, faculty and administrators must identify and understand the needs and preferences of adult learners as they relate to online learning and online instructional design (Ausburn, 2004). According to Knowles (1980), the father of andragogy, or the art of teaching adults, adult learners tend to be self-directed. That is, they want some control over both the content of learning and the way the knowledge or skill is presented. One of the principal premises of andragogy is that the successful facilitator acknowledges that need and creates a highly interactive learning environment for adults. Therefore, andragogy tends to be process-driven more than content-driven. That is not to say that content is irrelevant to the adult learner, but that the adult learner acquires new material (content) or a taught skill more efficiently when the facilitator individualizes the learning experience. Because adults' readiness to learn is frequently affected by their need to know or do something, they tend to have a life-, task-, or problem-centered orientation to learning as opposed to a subject-matter orientation (Knowles, 1980).

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