Factoid Learning

Summary: Is ILT necessarily an impoverished 'factoid' way of learning?

There has been criticism of Learning Object computer-based learning as 'factoid' because of the tendency to break things down into small, often disjointed, chunks, where transmission of information replaces acquisition of knowledge.

The current emphasis on reusable Learning Objects does risk this, if they are not counterbalanced. Quizzes, which are quick and easy to do, are used in huge numbers, and lesson plans, which are basically printable documents are probably the most common aids available on the internet. However, with the drive to construct Learning Object Repositories for use in education, this is likely to be worse. The internet has counterbalancing activities that appears to be missing. Becta's vision for LORs prioritises reusable exportable learning objects, which I believe is too narrow a view for what is intended to be a fully-fledged educational resource.

The use of forums on the internet, which are not mentioned in the report, strikes me as a useful asset, where students can interact directly with teachers and other learners. In forums, students are able to determine the content simply by creating the questions, which means that they are responsive to student needs and encourage students to take more control of their own learning. In time, the internet will develop a sufficient variety of possible ways of learning to overcome the current criticisms of being factoid. However, the closed systems being built for use in education in the UK may not have this range of tools.

There are also ways to make simple activities like quizzes, which are very popular with many online students, less factoid. The BBC Skillswise website breaks its quizzes down into three levels, each containing ten questions. This does suggest that everything can be broken down neatly into this form, which does not correspond to the realities of, in this case, language use. It also presents them one question at a time, which both reduces the possibilities for students to use the other questions to help them and is not narrowband friendly- it takes a long time to load so many pages down a dial-up modem. Presenting one question at a time is a good way of testing or examining, but it doesn't allow students to use their cognitive skills, which seems a pity if the quizzes are meant to help students learn the language.

If quizzes are given a set number of questions, then they are instantly more flexible. If they are also easily editable, then they can be revised and added to so that they improve over time, rather than thinking that the topic has been dealt with the second the tenth question is written. Flexibility and change are two simple methods to make quizzes less factoid, and this is a welcome part of the Learning Object Repository strategy as there is a heavy emphasis on the learning objects being editable.


See also: Open Source Learning

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