Individual differences in choice during learning: The influence of learner goals and attitudes in Web-based training
Kenneth Guy Brown, Michigan State University, United States
Michigan State University . Awarded
In recent years the growth of the World Wide Web has sparked an interest in using the web to deliver workplace training. Although there are many potential benefits of placing training on the web, there is little empirical evidence that such training can be effective. As one of the defining characteristics of web-based training (WBT) is the presence of hyperlinks and the control that they afford the trainee, research on learner control has the potential to offer useful theory and data regarding how and when such training can be useful. Unfortunately, the learner control research has been criticized for lack of theory and sound research (e.g., Reeves, 1993; Williams, 1996). The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the learner control research in light of the trend toward WBT, to develop a theory regarding how trainees use control during such training, and to test the theory.
Research on learner control, individual differences in trainee characteristics, and the learner process are reviewed. To integrate existing theory and empirical evidence, a theoretical model depicting the influence of individual differences on the choices that trainees make during training is advanced. This theory, labeled the individual differences in choice during learning theory, emphasizes trainee motivation. The theory suggests that learner goals, attitudes toward the content, self-efficacy for learning the content, and self-efficacy for using the technology are antecedent to two critical choices trainees must make during training: (1) Strategy and (2) Effort. These choices in turn influence knowledge gain and post-training attitudes such as self-efficacy for applying training back at work.
A study of 80 trainees in a Fortune 500 manufacturing firm is presented to test this model. Trainees completed a web-based training course that was originally offered as 3-days of instructor-led training. All trainees completed the course at a central facility, but they were allowed to proceed through the course at their own pace.
Overall, the theory provides a number of valid predictions. The results support the influence of goals and attitudes on a number of strategic and effort learning choices. Individual differences were also found to predict application self-efficacy. Effort choices regarding percent of activities to complete were found to be the best predictors of two measures of knowledge gain. Time on task was a marginally significant predictor. A number of other predictions of the theory were not confirmed. Neither individual differences nor strategic choices were found to predict knowledge gain. The best predictor of knowledge gain, percent of activities completed, was the process that was least well predicted by the individual difference measures.
These findings are discussed with regard to the structure and predictive validity of the learner choice theory. Future research directions are discussed, particularly the need to conduct more detailed research on the learning process and to search for motivational constructs that more effectively predict trainee activity levels.
Brown, K.G. Individual differences in choice during learning: The influence of learner goals and attitudes in Web-based training. Ph.D. thesis, Michigan State University.
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