Case Study Self Directed Learning Analysis Education Essay

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Supporting students to become self-directed learners is increasingly becoming core business for teachers in nowadays higher education. Today's working environment demands lifelong learners, and lifelong learners attitude like self-directedness. A student who is a self-directed learner can plan and evaluate his learning process and is capable to reflect on progress in learning. When he internalized this mechanism in his learning activities he probably will apply this competencies in daily practice. The curriculum design in modern education has to be supportive to this self-directed learning principle. Reflection tools are necessary to help students become engaged with this kind of meta-cognitive learning functions. An e-portfolio as a tool to support self-directed learning is used in the curriculum of the Bachelor of Nursing program at the University of applied sciences Zuyd. This tool is embedded in Blackboard® (electric learning environment). Some students simply do not use the portfolio at all, probably because it is not an obligatory part of the curriculum. Others use it, but in a poor way, probably due to a lack of skills in how to use the e-portfolio as a reflection tool. The hypothesis is that there is a discrepancy between the aim for learning of the e-portfolio as is desired in the curriculum and how it actually is used to self-directed learning, in daily practice classroom situations. In this paper it is clarified that several issues can negatively interfere with the working memory and so affecting the cognitive load and thereby influencing a proper use of an e-portfolio. Some Illustrative experiences with the use of an e-portfolio at the School of Nursing at the Zuyd University will be used to show the discrepancies. Recommendations to improve the use of an e-portfolio related to self-directed learning will be mentioned.

Self-directed learning

Professionals in nowadays working situations, especially working in a complex environment have to be flexible workers, reflective on their competencies and above all they have to apply knowledge and skills in a diverse range of situations. To become such a professional, education has an important role to support students become that kind of professional. Modern curriculum design is based on constructive learning theories, mainly focusing on four main principles. (Dolmans, de Grave, Wolfhagen, & van der Vleuten, 2005)The construct of the design and chosen learning activities should be a) context rich learning, in other words, the subject matter has to make sense to students and is connected to real practice situations, b) constructive learning, prior knowledge and transfer should be used to apply knew cognitive structures and schemes, c) collaborative learning, students have to be involved in situations wherein they are able to learn from each other in divers situations. Above these three principles d) self-directed learning is the fourth principle in a modern curriculum design. Planning and evaluation of learning are very important ingredients to become a self-directed learner. (Ertmer & Newby, 1996; Harris, Dolan, & Fairbairn, 2001; Ormrod, 2007; Vermunt, 1998) Self-directed learning demands self-regulation. Self-regulation contains four processes like goal setting, self-observation, self-evaluation and self-reaction, which can be described as meta-cognitive functions. This process demands meta-cognitive "cleverness". The existence of meta-cognitive functions is not a standard phenomenon. The level of meta-cognitive functioning depends on many factors. One important student related factor in an educational environment which is not quickly changeable in time, is the age of students. Meta-cognitive functions occur in time because the adolescent brain has to mature. This maturing is more or less finished in the second decade of life.(Prinsen & Terpstra, 2009) So mostly after finishing higher-education. Song and Hill(2007) placed self-directed learning in context of e-learning. They stated that the self-directed learning in an online environment divers from face to face/classroom situations. The use of such environment is a complex environment wherein learners have to be supported to use that environment to use reflection strategies, in that e-learning environment and build on self-directed learning competencies. Early research tried to identify models wherein was explained how self-directed learning could be stimulated by an e-learning environment. Perspective's about influencing adaptation and use a e-learning environment where described as personal attribution of the student to learning, the process and the context of learning. In the last century, perspective models of learning in an online context where described, like Mocker and Spears's two dimension model in the early 80's, and later on Garrison's Three Dimensional Model in the 90's. In addition Song and Hill described that the environment wherein self-directed learning is needed, has a huge impact on adapting that way of learning.(Song & Hill, 2007) In their model they take in account that the aspect of personal attribution connects to motivation but that capability of taking responsibility and cognitive strategies for learning has great influence on self-directed learning. But the contradiction is, that youngsters have to gain those capabilities in learning.

Portfolio as a tool

There are many didactic tools to improve meta-cognitive skills and by that improve self-directed learning. Such a tool could be a portfolio. A portfolio in early days was used by painters to show their arts. Nowadays it is developed in to a tool for students to collect their work and grading and feedback from peers, colleagues and teachers during time. When intrinsic motivation is present, the use of the portfolio will increase and this tool is more used in a proper way. When meta-cognitive functions are developed, than the use of a portfolio shows it's strength's and benefits to self-directed learning. It can improve the autonomy in learning and encourage students to take responsibility for their learning process and progress and positively stimulate deep learning.(Harris, et al., 2001; Tosh, Tracy, Fleming, & Haywood, 2005) Research showed that a portfolio can be used as an assessment tool. In literature the validity of portfolio is discussed. But using a portfolio as a formative assessment and use it in a way to stay in contact with students, help them to clarify their progress and give insights in progress in learning is more than acknowledged. (Davis, Ponnamperuma, & Ker, 2009; Harris, et al., 2001) It has to take in notice that the portfolio as a summative assessment tool is not discussed in this paper. In higher education the impact of an electric learning environment is increasing. Several e-learning environments are used, in those environments the possibility to create a portfolio is existing. Then the portfolio can be used as an electronic portfolio. This has some benefits for students and teachers as well. Learning can occur outside normal learning activities and students can work in time that fits, so called "learning beyond the classroom". Unfortunately the question is, do students use the opportunity of an e-portfolio for reflection and self-directed learning? In time e-portfolios are increasing in number, but in recent literature is questioned if students really accept the e-portfolio as a tool for deep learning and reflection. The e-portfolio is not always an integral part of the educational program, because it is not build in well into the curriculum and using all benefits as a didactic tool. How it, when it and why it can be used is often questioned by both teachers and students. Teachers approach on using technique shows a lack of digital skills of teachers. Ccombined with the misconceptions about the use of a portfolio is a known constraining factor in the level of acceptance . And above all, technique is not always facilitating the electronic environment in such a way as it should be and thereby negatively affecting the motivation the use of e-portfolio by students and teachers as well. (Ross, Maclachlan, & Cleland, 2009; Tosh, et al., 2005) All these factors mentioned above are obvious affecting learning activities and influencing the outcome of learning activities. According to the cognitive load theory(CLT) (van Merriënboer & Sluysmans, 2009; van Merriënboer & Sweller, 2010) it is possible to underpin why this influence is handicapping students using the e-portfolio as a tool for self-directed learning. But the relation of an e-learning environment versus CLT has to be more explored by educational research. A hypothesis could be that using a portfolio in an electric environment combined with the incapability of youngsters to use meta-cognitive skills (Prinsen & Terpstra, 2009; Verschueren & Koomen, 2007) is stressing the cognitive load and hinders them to use and learn with an e-portfolio.

Relation to the cognitive load theory

The bases for the cognitive load theory was set by John Sweller in the early 80's. This theory is describing that working memory has a limited storage capacity, according to the number of elements which it has to process simultaneously. The working memory is limited in his capacity in time. It is known that elements what can retrained in working memory is limited to about seven seconds. Sweller stated that when the load of working memory is decreased people are more able to learn. (van Merriënboer & Sweller, 2010)The cognitive load theory describes three possible ways where in the cognitive load can be stressed. The appearance of the assignment or learning task is influencing the cognitive load. This is called the intrinsic load. The way a student is dealing with the learning task, how he is experiencing his environment, how he is motivated to learn is known as extraneous load. The last dimension is this theory is the way the students actually learns. How he uses concepts and schemes. This part is called the germane load. It can be stated that in that last part real learning occurs. But the sum of the three parts is limited. There has to be a balance between those parts. A good balance can be seen as a situation where in a student feels invited to learn and is dared to explore his insights. In that situation the cognitive load is optimal. Related to the topic of this paper, when the environment is stressing and not supportive to learn, it takes to much load of the extraneous part, then less cognitive space can be used for real learning because germane load has less space in working memory. Another example according to this paper topic could be the assignment on his own. The assignment : "make a portfolio in a e-learning environment, and reflect on your learning process and progress", demands really meta-cognitive skills. This can affect the intrinsic load. In both ways it hinders students to work with this goal setting and reflection. Maybe when the assignment is too hard to understand and fulfil, it asks to much working capacity from the intrinsic load and less space is left for germane load. This will affect real learning will not occur. van Merriënboer and Sluijsmans (2009) stated that self-directed learning is supported by decreasing the cognitive load. Decreasing the cognitive load is depending on the instructional and environmental format. Better learning performance is seen when assessment has a formative character and the process is scaffolding by a role model teacher and working with examples of workout examples and relevant criteria to assess reflection tools.(van Merriënboer & Sluysmans, 2009)

What is the problem?

At the school of nursing at the Zuyd University of applied sciences an e-portfolio is used as a tool to stimulate self-directed learning. This tool is embedded in an e-learning environment. (Blackboard®). One very important issue nowadays during staff meeting is the decreasingly use of the portfolio by students and how to deal with this portfolio as a teacher. Questions are mentioned like "how to assess", "what should be in it"? " what kind of feedback is needed"? Furthermore there are many complaints about the accessibility of this learning environment and thereby accessing the e-portfolio as well. The aim that the e-portfolio is supportive to self-directed learning is doubted by many teachers.

Method

A inventory will be performed about the use of the portfolio in a quantitative way. The environment wherein the e-portfolios are stored is examined on the numbers of portfolios filled in. This environment is about the most possible filled in portfolios according to the range of all students who have access to the e-learning environment (N=761) (date:14 October 2010) .Furthermore a survey will be done with 6 main questions, partly bases on the theory from Margery Davis (2009). In this study she examines in broad way students perspectives on the use of a portfolio. In a small drawn sample (n=8) who are all young adolescents, among second years students of the school of Nursing, at the Zuyd university of applied sciences, (N=121). These 6 questions are, I have positive feelings towards the portfolio, building the portfolio positively interfered with my learning process, my products stored in the portfolio are showing my true ability, teachers expectations were clear, building the portfolio helped me to achieve a good outcome for daily practise and building the portfolio gave a great sense of achievement. One item was put in to it, according to literature about accessibility, if the e-environment is stimulating the use the e-portfolio. These items were scored on a 5 point likert scale. (1-strongly disagree to 5 strongly agree)

Analysis

The outcome of the inventory of using the portfolio is reported in quantitative way. The exact use is counted and divided into filled in totally, poor or totally not. The outcome of the survey is described in only a descriptive way by using SPSS 17 ®.

Results section

Inventory of use

In table 1(annex I) is shown that the total number of students with access the e-learning environment is 761 students. In theory there could be the same amount of portfolios. When examining those portfolios then it shows that the amount of fully filled in portfolios is 80 (10.5%), partly filled in portfolios is 229 (30.1%) and totally not filled in portfolios is 452 (59.4%). Figure 1(annex I) shows in kilobit the amount of content in the portfolio. 0 kb means that there is no content.

Survey done with second year students

The survey show in general (see table 2) that on no topic agree (equal to 4 or higher) is scored. Maximum score on every item is 3 (not agree or disagree). On three items, positive feeling, stimulating environment and clear expectations the lowest score, strongly disagree (1) was scored. A total print from the executed file is listed in annex I.

Table 2; overall outcome survey

Descriptive Statistics

N

Minimum

Maximum

Mean

positivefeelings

8

1,00

3,00

2,0000

posinterfeerlearning

8

2,00

3,00

2,6250

showingability

8

2,00

3,00

2,5000

clearexpectations

8

1,00

3,00

2,0000

goodoutcome

8

2,00

3,00

2,5000

senseofachievement

8

2,00

3,00

2,6250

stimulatingenvironm

8

1,00

3,00

1,8750

Valid N (listwise)

8

On item level was scored as follows; (see annex II);

I have positive feelings towards the portfolio 75% scored disagree and 12,5% scored totally disagree. This item has the lowest score of all items. Building the portfolio positively interfered with my learning process scored 62.5 % on not agree and disagree. My products stored in the portfolio are showing my true ability was scored 50-50% on not agree/disagree and disagree. Teachers expectations were clear, was scored very low as well, 75% scored disagree and 12.5% scored fully disagree. Building the portfolio helped me to achieve a good outcome for daily practise scored 50-50% on not agree/disagree and disagree. Building the portfolio gave a great sense of achievement scored 62.5% on (summed) not agree/disagree and disagree. At last the item accessibility of the environment scored 37.5% on strongly disagree, 37.5% on disagree and 25% on not disagree/agree. The standard deviation (sd 0,5) shows a small range in scoring on item level as well.

Discussion

The purpose of this paper was to clarify or to identify discrepancies between the aim of using an e-portfolio as a supportive tool to self-directed learning in a problem based learning curriculum and how it is delivered in daily classroom activities. The effect on self-directed learning is not discussed in this paper. By analyzes daily outcome, a two way approach was used; one, rote counting of use in the e-learning environment and secondly a survey among a small sample of second years student shows that the use of the e-portfolio is very small and the survey shows that student are not in to it! The survey shows that especially adapting the portfolio as a learning tool and understanding why it could be beneficial to learning is not present. One remarkable outcome is that students do not know what exactly is expected from them. This delivers difficulties on how to start the assignment. This attitude could be explained according to the theory about the adolescent brain. (Prinsen & Terpstra, 2009; Tosh, et al., 2005; Verschueren & Koomen, 2007) Reflective skills are immature in their present and furthermore the discrepancy between understanding the assignment and do not understand what this assignment is supporting, intrinsic load probably will be overloaded, and the outcome for learning will be disappointing. (van Merriënboer & Sluysmans, 2009) The item "clear expectations" shows that teachers probably do not give a clear guidance on using the portfolio as a learning tool or students do not understand this explanation. This guidance is needed to start with a common view on learning and self-directed learning. Theorist belief and practice shows that scaffolding those competencies is needed, and done by role model teachers. (Byrne, Schroeter, Carter, & Mower, 2009) This guidance can reduce cognitive load, especially extraneous load. On other very important item scored very low as well and that is the accessibility item. Students probably cannot access the environment or have difficulties using this environment. This could be demotivated to use the e-portfolio and probably thereby demotivate learning. Then the issue "what is in it for me" (Harris, et al., 2001) is not present. Motivation is known as a very important catalyst to learning. (Ormrod, 2007; Vermunt, 2005) Motivation is affecting the cognitive load as well. Good motivation, internalized or intrinsic, but environment related, extrinsic motivation as well, can reduce extraneous load. (van Merriënboer & Sluysmans, 2009) So four main principles to use in future carrying out the e-portfolio as a tool to self-directed learning can be drafted out this survey. First, there has to be clearness about the assignment. There has to be clearness about the correlation of the e-portfolio to self-directed learning by students. Furthermore teachers have to be aware about students perspectives on self-directed learning and apply this knowledge in classroom . Teachers have to act in such a way that they are supportive to the use of the e-portfolio as a role model. At last the issue of accessibility. The environments accessibility has to be no obstacle in learning. The system has to be a pleasure to use and daring to use. (Tosh, et al., 2005) Some adjustments on the survey could be done in future. Despite the shortness in time to do this research, the topic list of the survey has to be examined. A validity check to the topic "e-learning and being a self-directed learner", was not performed. Maybe some other items could be used to deepen out some issues about accessibility and guidance needed to improve the level of acceptance and level of using this e-portfolio at the school of nursing at the Zuyd University. Furthermore the sample of 8 students is not be generated to all students involved in the Nursing education program. In another study it would be wishful to compare young adolescents with older adolescents or mature students to the use of the e-portfolio as a guide in self-directed learning. Furthermore in future research, correlations between e-learning environment and cognitive load should be more explored to underpin some conceptions stated in this paper about cognitive load theory versus the use of an e-learning environment.

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