Learning effectiveness in a flexible learning program

Learning effectiveness in a flexible learning program Abstract With flexible learning, students gain access and flexibility in regard with at least th...
Author: Allan Perry
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Learning effectiveness in a flexible learning program Abstract With flexible learning, students gain access and flexibility in regard with at least the one following criteria: time, place, pace, learning style, content, and assessment or learning path. The School of Management and Law at the ZHAW (Zürich, Switzerland) launched a new program called flexible Teaching and Learning (FLEX). The BA degree course of Banking & Finance allows student to be more flexible in time and place due to a reduced, classroom learning time which is replaced by a self-study e-learning environment that includes instructional videos. In a pilot phase of the FLEX program, we were able to conduct a semi-experimental study on the learning effectiveness of FLEX. Although the direct presence instruction time of the students was reduced by half, the students reported no significant lower final test results, and the students’ perceptions reported in the surveys and in the standardized student evaluation were positive. Keywords: learning effectiveness, flexible learning, blended learning, post-only design

1

Theoretical Approach

1.1

Study Context

Many universities are looking for a coherent response to higher education dynamics, such as technological innovations (MOOCs) and increasing competition. This paper analyses such an initiative from a learner’s perspective. The School of Management and Law at the ZHAW (Zürich, Switzerland) launched a new program called flexible Teaching and Learning (FLEX). The BA degree course of Banking & Finance allows student to be more flexible in time and place due to a reduced classroom learning time by half which is replaced by a self-study e-learning environment that includes instructional videos. With this concept students gain the possibility to complete the whole course at the same time but with reduced traveling time and time of presentness. The implementation of Banking & Finance as a FLEX course was initiated in autumn 2015 after conducting a pilot phase in 2014 and will be finished with the last classes in 2019. 1.2

Theoretical Framework

A well-established definition of flexible learning is the notion that with flexible learning, students gain access and flexibility in regard with at least the one following criteria (Chen 2001): time, place, pace, learning style, content, assessment, learning path. Taking this definition, two distinct perspectives are included: 1. Student perspective: through flexible learning students gain the possibility of a more self-directed way of learning, addressing the shift from teaching to learning (e.g. Barr & Tagg 1995) focusing on responsible self-regulated ways of learning (e.g. Zimmermann & Schunk 2011) Flexible learning

should enable students to be in charge for their own learning process, a necessity for the competence of life-long-learning. 2. An institutional perspective means a change how teaching and learning is organised. E.g. content has to be provided in a way, that students can access it anywhere and anytime. This is the most fundamental way of flexible learning and with this understanding in mind, it is often used synonymously with terms like e-learning, open learning, distance or blended learning (Tucker & Morris 2014). Both perspectives are interlinked but to different degrees. If there is this close integration of flexible learning ways with conventional offers one might assign the term “blended learning” (Garrison & Karnuka 2004) to it. In this sense the FLEX program of the ZHAW is the blended version of SMLs traditional Banking & Finance course with the same assessment and learning goals. The FLEX program allows student to be more flexible in time and place due to a reduced classroom learning time by half which is replaced by a self-study e-learning environment that includes instructional videos. Traditional forms of teaching and learning are combined with technology enhanced learning concepts. Even the close integration between offline and online parts is challenging for the students. Samarawickrema`s study (2005) revealed that learners in all categories experienced problems in managing time, motivation and procrastinating tendencies. Students “seem to be extremely teacher reliant, a trait that is counter to flexible, off-campus learner requirements” (Samarawickrema 2005, p.63). In FLEX we try to balance this managing problems with a guideline and a clear checklist when to do what. All students got an overview for a phase of three weeks that is divided into different main topics. For every single subtopic they also get information about the planned duration and the group dynamic. Furthermore, few compulsory tasks are scheduled for certain deadlines. The disadvantage of spontaneous teacher feedback (Samarawickrema 2005) is counterbalanced by a strong online presence of the lecturer in the learning environment. The question is, weather this measurements are effective and goal oriented. Does the FLEX program influence the effectiveness of learning and what is the students’ perceptions of the FLEX learning design? 2

Research Methodology

We will answer these questions by looking at the pilot phase of the FLEX program. The most important aspect of the pilot phase is the lack of a self-selection bias. Students have been assigned to the FLEX class by the schools administration. With this we were able to ensure a semi-experimental setting under highly controlled conditions. There were 989 participants studying introduction to business administration: 140 students in the experimental FLEX group and 849 students in the control group. All students were university freshmen and the student eligibility requirements, lecture content, and exam questions were identical for all students. The students attended different study courses: the students in the experimental group (FLEX) studied business information technology (BIT, N=140, 3 classes) while students in the control group (CONV) studied business administration (BA, N=587, 10

classes) and business law (BL, N=262, 5 classes). All classes were taught by experienced lecturers; lecturers for the experimental classes taught at least one control class. To analyse the effectiveness of learning a posttest-only design was set up in which the final exam scores of the students in the experimental group (FLEX) and the control group (CONV) were compared. An independent-samples t-test was conducted to compare the test results 2014 for the experimental flexible learning (FLEX; N=140) and the conventional learning (CONV, N=849) conditions.1 Regarding the learning process and the perceptions of the learning design, the students completed two questionnaires in the term and a post-questionnaire. The perceptions of the students were analysed with an online survey. The survey consists of 7 items of different instruments: interest/enjoyment (IMI, Ryan 1982), structure (Stiller, Bachmaier & Köster 2013), coherence (SCEQ), usability (own item), guidance and motivation (CEQ, Wilson, Rizzio & Ramsden 1997), learning outcome (HILVE, Rindermann & Amelang 1994). 3

Results

3.1

Students’ Perceptions of the learning design FLEX

The online survey (n=117) shows positive perceptions of FLEX in all dimensions, with broad agreement (response categories 3–5) ranging from 73.04% to 84.62%. Figure 1: Students’ perceptions of the FLEX learning design (n=117)

Open ended questions about the students learning process within the FLEX design indeed provides temporal and spatial flexibility, which has been perceived as the biggest advantages (n=72). More seldom, learning was perceived as individual (n=5) but the management issues mentioned by 1

At this point it should be mentioned that this outcome is not a proof for the null hypothesis. In general a non-significant result can’t be a clear proof for the correctness of a null hypothesis (Schmidt & Hunter 1997).

Samarawickrema (2005) still remain: “Having problems engaging in self-regulated learning” (n=26) “Difficulty estimating the time needed for learning” (n=19) and alike have been the most often mentioned negative answers. 3.2

Learning Effectiveness in FLEX

The following table gives an overview of the final module test results of the different groups in the years 2012-2014. The t-test revealed no significant difference in the final test results 2014 for the flexible (M=35.9, SD=8.32) and conventional (M=37.20, SD=8.72) learning conditions, t(987)=-1.56, p=0.10 (ns).

Table 1: Results in final module test for students of different study programs The results indicate a bias of the course of study on the final module test results. The group of BA students reported the best test results on average in all years, followed by the BIT students. To assess whether there was a significant change in the deviation of the BIT test results over the years for the experimental group we compare the final test results of the different years, the deviations between the BIT students’ test results and the BA means of each year were calculated and z-transformed. The results show no significant change in the deviation of the final module test results in the year 2014 (year with experimental condition FLEX) compared with the years 2012/13 (years with conventional condition). The conventional class and the FLEX seem to be equal regarding the learning success because there is no proof for a difference between the years 2012/13 and the year. 4

Conclusion

Although the direct presence instruction time of the students was reduced by half, the students reported no significant lower final test results, and the students’ perceptions reported in the surveys and in the standardized student evaluation were positive. This is especially remarkable because the students could not choose their learning design, but rather were assigned to the experimental FLEX

learning classes. Furthermore, the research about the learning process revealed that the major challenge for students in a flexible learning design is planning, organizing and reflecting on their learning process individually. The students are in need for self-regulated learning skills in a blendedlearning design such as FLEX. As a consequence, the university will enhance students’ capability for self-regulated learning in the FLEX learning program with special courses, support and coaching. At the HEC2016 we well compare this results of the pilot with the first results from the 2015 classes. 5

References

Barr, R. B., & Tagg, J. (1995). From Teaching to Learning — A New Paradigm For Undergraduate Education. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 27(6), 12–26. http://doi.org/10.1080/00091383.1995.10544672 Chen, D.-T. (2003). Uncovering the provisos behind flexible learning. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 6(2), 25–30. Garrison, D. R., & Kanuka, H. (2004). Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. The internet and higher education, 7(2), 95–105. Rindermann, H. & Amelang (1994). Das Heidelberger Inventar zur Lehrveranstaltungs-Evaluation (HILVE). Heidelberg: Roland Asanger Verlag. Ryan, R. M. (1982). Control and information in the intrapersonal sphere: An extension of cognitive evaluation theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 450-461. Schmidt, F.L. & Hunter, J.E. (1997). Eight Common But False Objections to Discontinuation of Significance Testing in the Analysis of Research Data. In: What if there were no significance tests? Edited by Harlow, L.L., Mulaik, S.A. & Steiger, J.H. Mahwa, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, 1997. pp. 37-64 Stiller, K. D., Bachmaier, R. & Köster, A. (2013). NiceDesign4KMU. Online-Weiterbildung „Mediengestaltung“. Evaluationsbericht. Regensburg: Universität Regensburg, Institut für Pädagogik. Samarawickrema *, R. G. (2005). Determinants of student readiness for flexible learning: Some preliminary findings. Distance Education, 26(1), 49–66. http://doi.org/10.1080/01587910500081277 Tucker, R., & Morris, G. (2012). By design: negotiating flexible learning in the built environment discipline. Research in Learning Technology, 20(0). http://doi.org/10.3402/rlt.v20i0.14404 Wilson, K., Lizzio, A. & Ramsden, P. (1997). The development, validation and application of the course experience questionnaire. Studies in Higher Education, 22(1), 33–53. Zimmerman, B. J., & Schunk, D. H. (eds). (2011). Handbook of self-regulation of learning and performance. New York: Routledge

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