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Hi, reader! This week, we’re tackling questions related to online learning. Specifically, the questions addressed in this issue are:

  1. Do particular pedagogical factors play a role in learner persistence culture differences?
  2. Does mobile microlearning increase learner performance?
  3. Is blocked or massed practice better when learning from video tutorials?

Let’s jump right in!

Cultural Factors May Impact Online Activities in MOOCs

As someone with a background in social psychology, I was excited when this article was sent along to me! Our first study this week comes from Computers in Human Behavior, with a focus on evaluating if instructional design might differentially affect learner persistence between cultural groups. Generally speaking, MOOCs are built for everyone! The idea is that all learners with internet connection can register and complete courses. While this may allow people from a variety of cultural backgrounds to engage with learning materials, the instructional activities are administered in the exact same way, regardless of cultural differences. However, recent research suggests socioeconomic and regional differences might be related to learner persistence (Bozkurt & Aydın, 2018). The current study evaluated this gap by asking: do particular pedagogical factors play a role in this learner persistence difference?

Rizvi, Rienties, Rogaten, & Kizilcec analyzed data from over 49,000 learners covering 10 MOOCs (2021). Each course was evaluated based on various activities, including articles, discussions, videos, and quizzes. Learner persistence was measured by quantifying how far the learner progressed with the course materials until they dropped out. The researchers looked at general trends and cultural differences.

Overall, the results did show an association between an increase in articles and quizzes with a higher dropout rate. On the other hand, more discussion activities were related to a lower dropout rate. Getting into the more specific and, I think, interesting idea - does activity type impact persistence based on culture? In fact, they found that it does! When looking at articles, they found that every one unit increase was associated with an increased dropout risk rate of 7% for African, 28% for Anglo-Saxon, and 48% for Latin American learners. They also found that discussion-based activities were the most critical activity type. Overall, increasing discussions were related to a decrease in the dropout risk ratio - except for learners in South Asia and Africa (Rizvi et al., 2021). Further, the ratio was impacted differently based on culture. For a 1 unit increase in discussions, Latin American learner dropout rate decreased by 12%, learner persistence increased: 21% for South Asian learners and 9% for African learners. When looking at quizzes, results showed a negative effect such that Anglo-Saxon learners and Middle Eastern learners were deterred by 26% and 7%, respectively. Lastly, increasing the number of learning videos was associated with higher retention rates, but only for South Asian learners. This isn’t very surprising, considering past work regarding video-based learning for collectivist cultures (Reinecke & Bernstein, 2011).

What does this mean for course design? A few things stand out:

  1. Students generally preferred fewer activities, with the exception of South Asian learners.
  2. Communication-based learning activities (i.e., discussions) may actually inhibit learners from “disadvantaged, non-English speaking contexts.”
  3. Engagement was higher in courses that had a large number of assimilative activities - videos and articles. Videos were particularly influential!

Key Takeaway: Considering the results, it’s important to remain flexible in online courses. Specifically, the authors recommend ensuring that instructors utilize “a balanced approach – a combination of all types of learning activities, not just video-driven, discussion-based, or reading” in their courses.

Read More ($): Rizvi, S., Rienties, B., Rogaten, J., & Kizilcec, R. F. (In Press). Beyond on-size-fits-all in MOOCs: Variation in learning design and persistence of learners in different cultural and socioeconomic contexts. Computers in Human Behavior.

“The study provides evidence that mobile microlearning for journalism education is effective at increasing journalists’ skills in writing news for mobile readers.”
- Lee et al., 2021

Can Mobile Microlearning Increase Learner Confidence?

Over the past decade, mobile microlearning (MML) has continued to increase within workplaces and corporate training (Callisen, 2016). MML is different from other online platforms in that it’s designed to keep learning chunks under 5 minutes, for use on a smartphone/small screen, and should include interactive content, gamified experiences, and instant feedback (Lee, Jahnke, & Austin, 2021). Considering the units of learning are under 5 minutes, they must be impactful and lead to improved knowledge. The researchers of the current study were interested in what instructional design factors may lead to improved effectiveness and knowledge retention in an MML (Lee et al., 2021). Researchers utilized a course built by one of the authors, The 5 Cs of Writing News for Mobile Audiences, to understand how an MML course can support the learning process, learner experience, and knowledge.

Prior to beginning the course, participants completed a pretest as a baseline measure. Participants also completed post-lesson surveys after each of the 5 lessons, as well as a final post-test after the entire course. The surveys covered 3 main topics: efficacy, efficiency, and appeal. Efficacy references student achievement, efficiency assesses time spent, and appeal references whether learners enjoyed the instruction (Lee et al., 2021).

So, how did this journalism MML fair? Regarding efficiency, the average time for all learning units was below 5 minutes, falling well within MML time norms. The course was also appealing, with over 85% of participants agreeing that the lessons were convenient and fun. Further, all participants agreed that they would recommend the course. Personally, I found effectiveness to have the most compelling results! Overall, 88% of participants referenced the difficulty of the lessons as “about right” (Lee et al., 2021). Importantly, participants report their confidence levels when writing news headlines and stories were significantly higher at post-test compared to their baseline. The results also showed that topic knowledge significantly improved after completion of the course. Areas of improvement were also mentioned, such as providing more practical examples and adding more time for timed exercises. This study helps to expand past work by illuminating the learner perspective on an MML course (Lee et al., 2021).

Key Takeaway: The results tell us that a microformat can provide positive effects on learning performance! It’s also possible to improve learner confidence through an MML course.

Read More ($): Lee, Y., Jahnke, I., & Austin, L. (2021). Mobile microlearning design and effects on learning efficacy and user experience. Educational Technology Research and Development, 69, 885-915.

Blocked vs. Massed Practice with Videos

I’m not sure if you’d had this experience, but on at least 3 occasions I’ve stopped my spouse from calling a handyman so that I can flex my (lack of) skills. Usually, I go straight to a trusted Youtube channel and watch a video with a tutorial on how to fix said appliance. Think of watching this - do you watch it all the way through and then attempt a repair, or do you pause and follow step-by-step? Which is better?

Our last article for this week hones in on practice schedules and video tutorials. Historically, research regarding practice schedules has centered around motor skills and sports (Wright et al., 2016; Buszard et al., 2017). However, the field is expanding and this study adds to that. The authors of this article were interested in exploring whether blocked or massed practice would have an effect on learning from video tutorials (Ragazou & Karasavvidis, 2021). Video tutorials are an important learning tool because they allow learners to imitate the instructor’s on-screen actions (Grossman et al., 2013). This aligns with demonstration-based training (DBT), a theory linking multimedia learning and observational learning, and the cognitive theory of multimedia learning (Mayer, 2021). Thus, video tutorials are beneficial, in part, due to the inclusion of a social learning aspect. Expanding practice research to the video tutorial realm is an important step in the multimedia learning literature.

Sure, sounds great! But what are “blocked” and “massed” practice? In this study, participants were assigned to either a “blocked” or “massed” practice group. The blocked condition viewed a video tutorial, but it was divided into small segments. After each segment, the video would pause, allowing the participants to practice what they learned. In the massed condition, participants watched the same video tutorial all the way through, i.e., no pausing. Similar to the example above, the blocked condition is if you pause the video and follow step-by-step, while the massed condition is watching it all the way through and attempting the repair. For a visual of blocked vs. massed practice, see below.

(Ragazou & Karasavvidis, 2021)

In the end, the blocked condition performed significantly better than those in the massed condition during training. However, there was not a significant difference between groups in tasks after training. Considering the higher performance of the blocked condition, the authors suggest designers provide practice files for instruction (Ragazou & Karasavvidis, 2021).

Key Takeaway: Blocked practice, or segmentation, can help improve procedural knowledge and training. If using video tutorials, try to implement times to pause and practice.

Read More ($): Ragazou, V., & Karasavvidis, I. (2021). The effects of blocked and massed practice opportunities on learning software applications with video tutorials. Journal of Computers in Education.

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Pets of Learning Science Weekly

Per our last article, we’re happy to take a pause in the segment and introduce reader Helen’s fur baby. Gizmo “is 16, loves naps, food, naps, laptime and naps.” Personally, I think she has the cutest little beans in town!

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The LSW Crew

Learning Science Weekly is written by Kaitlyn Erhardt, Ph.D. and edited by Julia Huprich, Ph.D.

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