Students’ Approaches to E-Learning: Analyzing Credit/Noncredit and High/Low Performers

Gwen Nugent, Ashu Guru, Deana M. Namuth-Covert
Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning  •  Volume 14  •  2018  •  pp. 143-158

This study examines differences in credit and noncredit users’ learning and usage of the Plant Sciences E-Library (PASSEL, http://passel.unl.edu), a large international, open-source multidisciplinary learning object repository.

Advances in online education are helping educators to meet the needs of formal academic credit students, as well as informal noncredit learners. Since online learning attracts learners with a wide variety of backgrounds and intentions, it is important understand learner behavior so that instructional resources can be designed to meet the diversity of learner motivations and needs.

This research uses both descriptive statistics and cluster analysis. The descriptive statistics address the research question of how credit learners differ from noncredit learners in using an international e-library of learning objects. Cluster analysis identifies high and low credit/noncredit students based on their quiz scores and follow-up descriptive statistics to (a) differentiate their usage patterns and (b) help describe possible learning approaches (deep, surface, and strategic).

This research is unique in its use of objective, web-tracking data and its novel use of clustering and descriptive analytic approaches to compare credit and noncredit learners’ online behavior of the same educational materials. It is also one of the first to begin to identify learning approaches of the noncredit learner.

Results showed that credit users scored higher on quizzes and spent more time on the online quizzes and lessons than did noncredit learners, suggesting their academic orientation. Similarly, high credit scorers spent more time on individual lessons and quizzes than did the low scorers. The most striking difference among noncredit learners was in session times, with the low scorers spending more time in a session, suggesting more browsing behavior. Results were used to develop learner profiles for the four groups (high/low quiz scorers x credit/noncredit).

These results provide preliminary insight for instructors or instructional designers. For example, low scoring credit students are spending a reasonable amount of time on a lesson but still score low on the quiz. Results suggest that they may need more online scaffolding or auto-generated guidance, such as the availability of relevant animations or the need to review certain parts of a lesson based on questions missed.

The study showed the value of objective, web-tracking data and novel use of clustering and descriptive analytic approaches to compare different types of learners. One conclusion of the study was that this web-tracking data be combined with student self-report data to provide more validation of results. Another conclusion was that demographic data from noncredit learners could be instrumental in further refining learning approaches for noncredit learners.

Learning object repositories, online courses, blended courses, and MOOCs often provide learners the option of moving freely among educational content, choosing not only topics of interest but also formats of material they feel will advance their learning. Since online learning is becoming more prolific and attracts learners with a wide variety of backgrounds and intentions, these results show the importance of understanding learner behavior so that e-learning instructional resources can be designed to meet the diversity of learner motivations and needs.

Future research should combine web-tracking data with student self-report to provide more validation of results. In addition, collection of demographic data and disaggregation of noncredit student usage motivations would help further refining learning approaches for this growing population of online users.

learning object repository, learning approaches, noncredit learners, cluster analysis, web-tracking data
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