Date of Award

1998

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Faculty

Faculty of Science, Technology and Engineering

First Advisor

Assoc. Professor Ron Oliver

Abstract

As educational institutions come under increasing pressure from outside forces to restructure the way students learn, efforts are being made by researchers to find ways to assist students to learn through independent thought and to solve problems in a resource-based, self-paced environment. Such an environment needs to be sufficiently interesting and novel to motivate students who begin to use it, and to continue to engage them as they progress through it. This study has sought to identify what such a learning environment needs to encompass in order to motivate and engage adult learners so that they will not only want to use it, but use it extensively. Eight attributes of motivation and engagement were identified from the literature, these being: immersion; reflection; flow; collaboration; learner control; curiosity; fantasy; and challenge. A module in a finance unit traditionally viewed by the students as boring and unengaging was selected, and a review of student and content needs was conducted. An interactive learning environment in the form of a microworld with gaming elements was designed and developed to incorporate the eight learner effects, and this was then trialed with a small group of finance students. The trial forms the basis for this thesis. The study was conducted using a combination of ethnographic action research and grounded theory as these allowed the researcher to focus on a specific problem relevant to the actual situation and allowed patterns in observations to be detected. The study used descriptive methodology to report what actually happened whilst looking for relationships between design elements, with cross-sequential sampling overcoming the problems of mono-operation bias. The results from these data gathering exercises suggested that the eight learner effects did, in fact, contribute to motivation and engagement in varying degrees. The program represented the unit content in a multiplicity of ways, ensuring that the individual learning styles of the students were accommodated. The study showed that students adapted differing navigational methods to progress through the program, but having settled on a path tended not to deviate from that path throughout each phase of the program. The study also highlighted the fact that such an environment is probably more effective in promoting incidences of reflection and higher order thinking among collaborating students, although, with sufficient scaffolding elements built into the program, students working in isolation may achieve some of the same effects from collaboration with the program itself. Another effect of using the microworld was that students could relate their learning back to their everyday lives, as well as place themselves into the environment. These factors, combined with the gaming elements, created an environment that caused an increase in positive attitudes among both the male and the female students. The results of this research have many implications for the future design of interactive learning environments for adults. It is already well documented that adult learners like resource-based, self-paced learning that is available at their convenience, but this research has identified some of the elements necessary to motivate adult learners to use such a program, to maintain their interest in the content during the whole time they are using the program, and to create a desire to continue learning about the topic long after they have completed the program. There are several imperatives driving the development of interactive instructional multimedia in the university environment. Among them are increased numbers of students, a reduction in the available face-to-face teaching time, and a growing. number of students who are demanding a more flexible way of learning. The results of this study show that interactive multimedia is a viable option for this style of teaching and learning, but the design should incorporate certain elements and principles in order for the students to be motivated sufficiently to use it. These design elements are generalisable to the design of multimedia for a wide variety of courses and topics.

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