Using learning styles to select an appropriate CBT package

Alan Cooper, University of Brighton

Emily Gemelli, The Lee Valley Centre of Middlesex University

This research originated from a need to use Computer Based Training (CBT) to help undergraduates within the Faculty of IT at the University of Brighton learn MS Word. A review of CBT packages suggested that they could be categorised into one of three types: the electronic book, the demonstration, the interactive tutorial. Furthermore, it appeared that there might be a link between package type and students' preferred learning styles. If so, then different learning styles would be best served by different characteristics in a CBT package. It was decided to create a survey to explore this.

Students were categorised by their preferred learning styles based upon Kolb's learning style inventory tests (Kolb and Fry, 1975) and Witkin's learning styles tests (Witkin, et al, 1977). One CBT package from each category was chosen (Software Made Simple, Word Tutor, infosource) and students were then asked to evaluate these by using them in turn to 'learn' a new topic: Creating Styles. For each package, subjects were asked to complete a questionnaire to record their evaluation under the following headings: ease of use, structure, information characteristics, likes and dislikes, helpfulness of any examples, helpfulness of questions and answers, general helpfulness of this package in learning the topic. The aim of these questionnaires was to establish the subject's perceptions of the three packages and questions were mostly open ones.

After analysis, the results showed no evidence to suggest that a subject's evaluation of a CBT package related to his or her preferred learning style. However, the evaluations identified a number of characteristics of CBT packages that s/he preferred, often in conflict with other subjects and probably independent of his or her preferred learning style. This seemed to indicate that for a specific student, an appropriate CBT package should have certain characteristics and that these should match those that the individual finds helpful for his or her learning though this would not be based upon any categorisation of learning style. Examples of these characteristics were: rigidity of structure, text/graphic balance, level of detail, inclusion of worked examples or questions and answers.

The evaluation identified characteristics that the subjects liked and disliked in the packages. It also helped to characterise the packages themselves. These characteristics are grounded in the subjects' use of the CBT packages. These findings have led to the development of a new questionnaire designed to establish a student's preferred characteristics as a guide to the most appropriate type of CBT package. The results suggest that different students do indeed prefer different types of CBT package. Implicit in this is that an individual needs to know both his or her own preferred characteristics and those catered for by each package. Work is now proceeding on using this new knowledge with a much larger sample, and with applications besides MS Word.

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