Virtual Learning Environments and their learners: an empirical investigation of the relationship between cognitive style, motivational orientation and the new learning technologies.

Dr Julie Richardson, Kings College London, Tony Turner, Canterbury, Christ Church, University College, UK

In 1998-1999 Staffordshire University introduced two virtual learning environments (VLEs):   Lotus Learning Space, and COSE (Creation of Study Environments), as part of its commitment to distributed learning.  A wide-reaching, student centred evaluation model was designed, aimed at appraising the quality of students' learning experiences using these VLEs.  A central part of the model was to examine the individual differences of students and how these interact with this new way of working.  The individual differences chosen for exploration included motivational orientation, field dependence-independence, time management practices, attitudes to VLEs, and IT ability.   This paper explores the findings of the evaluation in terms of these individual differences.  At one level the paper simply asks whether students with different cognitive styles(field dependence-independence) have different overall attitudes towards using virtual learning environments as part/all of their studies?  However, further exploration asks whether there is a more complex interaction between cognitive styles, motivational orientation, time management practices, IT competence and attitudes towards VLEs.

In this aim the paper is divided into 3 parts.  First, a summary of the evaluation model is given and its potential for transfer across learning technologies discussed.  Second, the methods used for gathering the individual differences data described.  Third the results are discussed in terms of the evaluation and whether these support previous findings.  Finally, curriculum changes being made as a result of these findings are considered.

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