The field of neuroscience has shown that the brain has the ability to change, and that experience (including educational experience) can change its connectivity, function and even structure. So it comes as no surprise that different learning experiences, supported by various digital technologies, could have an impact on students’ performance: for example, exam results or the transfer of knowledge, skills and attitudes that extend beyond the classroom. Could virtual learning environments and incorporated digital technologies lead to cognitive changes and have an impact on student learning (whether positive or negative)?
Virtual learning environments are common digital tools used to provide support, engage students and facilitate their learning experience: for example, using online discussion forums and providing online access to content and other digital tools. However, traditional universities are complex environments offering blended learning: that is, a mix of online content together with face-to-face classes, seminars and tutorials. Trying to isolate and measure the impact of a VLE alone on student performance could be a challenge.
To investigate students’ learning performance associated with the uptake of VLE tools, we plan to develop cognitive behavioural tasks to closely match the student experience when using the VLE, possibly mapping different tasks for each of the VLE tools. Bloom’s taxonomy (1956) could be used to map VLE tools to extract cognitive functions in order to design simpler cognitive tasks that mirror the VLE tools. For example, forums and chat tools can be linked to creativity (Seitzinger, 2010). The results would lead to the design of further experiments to study the neural bases of learning: for example, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). These quantitative outcomes could inform best practice in designing and using digital tools, something that has not been addressed before in this specific domain. Research could be aligned with previous studies that have investigated the effects of gaming on learning (Howard-Jones et al. 2015), or internet experience with brain activation patterns (Small et al. 2009).
Our research will investigate whether current technological advancements such as instructions, communication and collaboration tools, media, content and systems integration in technology-enhanced learning (currently backed up by mostly qualitative studies) are contributing to improve students’ learning experience and, hence, their performance.
Bloom, B. S. (ed.) (1956) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, the classification of educational goals – Handbook I: Cognitive Domain New York: McKay
Howard-Jones P.A., Jay, T., Mason, A. and Jones, H. (2015) Gamification of Learning Deactivates the Default Mode Network. Front. Psychol. 6:1891
Seitzinger, J. (2010). Moodle Tool Guide for Teachers. Available: http://www.cats-pyjamas.net/2010/05/moodle-tool-guide-for-teachers/. Last accessed 17th Mar 2016.
Small, G.W., Moody, T.D., Siddarth, P. & Bookheimer, S.Y. (2009). Your brain on Google: patterns of cerebral activation during internet searching. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiarty, 17(2), 116-126