Pacing, Pixels, and Paper: Flexibility in Learning Words from Flashcards

Kara Sage, Joseph Rausch, Abigail Quirk, Lauren Halladay
Journal of Information Technology Education: Research  •  Volume 15  •  2016  •  pp. 431-456
The present study focused on how self-control over pace might help learners successfully extract information from digital learning aids. Past research has indicated that too much control over pace can be overwhelming, but too little control over pace can be ineffective. Within the popular self-testing domain of flashcards, we sought to elucidate the optimal level of user control for digital learning and compare learning outcomes between paper and digital flashcards. College students learned vocabulary from paper flashcards or one of several digital flashcard versions and were scored on their memory recall and asked about their perceptions of the learning process. With digital flashcards, students were randomly assigned to an automatic slideshow of cards with no user control, automatic slideshow with pre-set pauses, automatic slideshow where users could press the spacebar to pause at any time, or a self-paced slideshow with complete user control. Users reported feeling more in control when indeed having some control, but ultimately memory recall, cognitive load, and satisfaction were similar across the five versions. However, memory recall was positively related to user satisfaction with their specific flashcard set, and negatively related to users’ perceived mental effort and difficulty. Notably, whether paper or digital, students showed individual variability in how they advanced through the words. This research adds to the educational literature by suggesting that paper and digital flashcards are equally viable options for students. Given differences between individual users and the connection between satisfaction and recall, individualistic options that offer, but do not force, some control over pace seem ideal. Paper flashcards may already include such options, and e-flashcards should offer similar adaptive features to appeal to a wide variety of users.
computer, pace, self-control, learning, flashcards
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