Educational Technology Research and Development
A bi-monthly publication of the Association for Educational Communications & Technology
? Association for Educational Communications and Technology 2012
Special Issue on Personalized Learning
Fostering personalized learning in science inquiry supported by mobile technologies
1 1 Yanjie Song, Lung-Hsiang Wong and Chee-
1 Kit Looi
(1) Learning Sciences Lab, National Institute of Singapore,
1 Nanyang Walk, Singapore, 637616, Singapore
Yanjie Song (Corresponding author)
Published online: 5 April 2012
In this paper, we present a mobile technology-assisted seamless learning process design where students were facilitated to develop their personalized and diversified understanding in a primary school‘s science topic of the life
cycles of various living things. A goal-based approach to experiential learning model was adopted as the pedagogical design to support the student‘s personalized learning process. We chose to report the student‘s inquiry into the life cycles of
the spinach plant and the butterfly to pinpoint the how the
student‘s personalized learning was fostered in the experiential learning. The learning process consisted of (a) in-class enculturation and question posing; (b) out-of-class field trip observation; (c) on site reflection after observation; (c) data collection and conceptualization of life cycles in the field trip; (d) the hands-on experimentation of growing the spinach plant and rearing a butterfly after the trip at home; (e) creation of animations and composition based on the hands-on experience individually either at home or in class to re-conceptualize the life cycles of the spinach plant and the butterfly, and (f) sharing and evaluation of their work in class. Each student was assigned a smartphone on a 1:1, 24 × 7 basis, which was used by individuals to mediate their seamless learning experience across multiple contexts. Through our analysis of the learning content, processes and products, we illuminate how the goal-based approach applied to mobile-assisted experiential learning facilitates students‘ personalized learning and helps them to fulfill their agency in such learning experiences. Keywords Personalized learning – Experiential learning –
Goal-based approach – Mobile technologies – Seamless
learning – Field trip
Dr. Yanjie Song
is a Research Scientist in the Learning Sciences Lab, National Institute of Education, Singapore. Her research interest lies in theory, practice and methods of mobile technology educational applications.
Dr. Lung-Hsiang Wong
is a Research Scientist in the Learning Sciences Lab, National Institute of Education, Singapore. His research interests include mobile seamless learning and technology-enhanced language learning.
Dr. Chee-Kit Looi
is a Full Professor in Learning Sciences Lab, Nanyang Technological University. He has published extensively in the fields of mobile learning and computer-supported
collaborative learning, and his research has created significant inroads into impacting school practices.
Educational field trips and learning trails offer students opportunities in exploring and meaning-making in authentic settings beyond formal classroom instructions by leveraging on the unique characteristics of mobile technologies, namely, individuality, connectivity, context sensitivity, mobility and immediacy.
With the development of new technologies, and the
individual‘s increasing need for continuous access to knowledge, the borders between learning, leisure and home activities are diminishing. Education is faced with the challenges of new paradigms of teaching and learning, such as personalized learning—an emerging topic in technology
enhanced learning research. Learners are different in gender, social roles, culture, education background, ways of learning, knowledge, attention and interests. It is of vital importance to provide them with learning contents and teaching tactics according to their individual needs. To support students during their learning process, we need to capture the context in which they operate.
The focus of this paper is to describe how personalized learning in science inquiry was fostered in a class of Primary four students in a Singaporean school through a process of experiential learning in a mobile learning environment (MLE). The domain topic to cover was the ―life cycles‖ of various organisms. Students involved in the study were assigned a smartphone on 1:1 (one-device-per-student), 24 × 7 (24 h a day, 7 days a week) basis throughout the study period. The learning process design is congruent with Wong and Looi‘s (2011) advocate of facilitating students‘ seamless learning experience by extending the supposedly one-off activity design into ongoing, ―cross-time and cross-location‖
constructivist learning. In other words, it was intended to address the potential pitfall of such episodic activities where students were provided with the opportunity to interact with the environment but might not be subsequently supported in
deepening their understanding through textual (and other forms of) knowledge (Pea and Maldonado 2006). In our design,
after the outdoor activities, students were given additional weeks for follow-up activities to advance their learning by carrying out relevant hands-on tasks and further artifact creations to reinforce their reflections and demonstrate their personalized, meaning making processes on their earlier outdoor learning trail on a farm. The entire cross-context, cross-time learning processes were mediated and supported by the smartphone assigned to each student. The mobile device could be characterized as a ―learning hub‖ that integrates all the personal learning tools, resources and self-created artifacts at one place (Zhang et al. 2010), thus providing students a
sense of the ―continuous nature of learning‖ across multiple contexts.
The organization of the paper is as follows: we first introduce the literature related to personalized learning and experiential learning. Next, we present the study context, design and research methods, followed by results and discussions. The paper ends with a conclusion.
Personalized learning has the potential to refocus education on the individual rather than schools (O‘Donoghue 2009).
Personalized learning aims to develop individualized learning programs for each student with the intent to engage him/her in the learning process to optimize each child‘s learning potential and success. It means a shift from learning that receives the same educational inputs and opportunities to one in which all
students have undergone to unique learning experiences and the access to learning resources based on their individual needs. Personalized form of instruction is related to differentiated instruction.
Differentiated instruction is a pedagogy premised on the instructional approaches that should vary and be adapted to individual and diverse students‘ needs (Tomlinson 2000). To
cater for differentiated learning, teachers need to address the three characteristics of students: readiness, interest, and learning profile for each student (Tomlinson 2000). Readiness
refers to a student‘s knowledge, understanding, and skill related to a particular sequence of learning; interest refers to the topics that evoke students‘ curiosity and passion in which they want to invest time and energy to learn about; and learning profile refers to how a student learns best by offering different choices for showing mastery of learning. The curriculum can be differentiated according to the student characteristics in three elements: the content, the process and the product (Tomlinson 2000). In differentiated instruction,
students gain increased ownership of their own learning. This does not mean that differentiated instruction is to offer individualized instruction without involving collaborative or whole class learning activities.
Nevertheless, personalization is different from differentiation and individualization in that personalization requires a major shift in focus from teacher-centered approach to an authentic, student-centered approach. Personalized forms of learning provide an approach tailored to the abilities, preferences, interests, and other diverse needs of the individual students. Thus it empowers the students with more autonomy to develop their own learning paths and with more room for creativity, collaboration, content creation, multi-modal learning and problem-solving, and to become active, and responsible agents in the learning process (Looi et al. 2009). Furthermore,
individualized learning usually refers to a learner carrying out learning tasks on his/her own, while a personalized learning experience might also involve social/collaborative learning activities at certain stages of the learning process. To distill
personalized learning, Rudd (2008) proposes that
personalization should ―increase learner choice and voice‖ in which learners have the power and control over their learning. ―Increase learner choice‖ means that learners have the opportunities to make decisions on the agenda of actions made by the teacher; and ―increase learning voice‖ means that learners have the opportunities to initiate the agendas for action, and are co-designers for their education with the educators. Developing personalized learning curriculum is no easy task. Teachers face the challenges of investing time and effort in designing learning activities that provide unique learning experiences and material for diverse individual needs. New technologies may help ease the teachers‘ stress and foster students‘ personalized learning (Livingstone 2007; Looi et al.
2009). Stroup and Petrosino (2003) categorize technology
devices into two types -vertical and horizontal technologies. Vertical technologies refer to devices used mainly for teachers‘ needs in a prescribed setting, and horizontal
technologies refer to devices used for students‘ personal needs across multiple contexts. Although a large number of educational technologies are still designed and used from the teachers‘ perspectives as vertical technologies, mobile
technologies offer new opportunities to meet students‘ learning needs as horizontal technologies.
Mobile-assisted personalized learning
New technologies such as mobile technologies have the potential to enhance personalized learning due to its unique characteristics that contribute to learning distinctive from other forms of learning in mainly two aspects. First, learning occurs in environments that move with the learners; and secondly, learning is more personalized in continually reconstructed contexts (Looi et al. in press). Regarding the first aspect, a new focus is laid on continually reconstructed and learner-generated contexts (e.g., Laurillard 2007; Sharples et al. 2007),
and on learner‘s increasing capability to physically move their own learning environments as they move (e.g., Barbosa and Geyer 2005). In this regard, Chan et al. (2006) put forward the
notion of (mobile-assisted) seamless learning mediated by
one-to-one (one-device-per-student), 24 × 7 setting to bridge formal and informal learning, thus making the learning experiences more personalized (Looi et al. 2009, 2010; Wong
and Looi 2011; Wong 2012). These can hardly be achieved
through the use of other computer technologies. Järvelä et al. (2007) carried out three experiments to explore possibilities that mobile tools and wireless networks provided for individual and collaborative learning in different contexts. The research findings show that mobile tools and wireless networks can provide multiple opportunities for bridging different kinds of learning contents and contexts as well as virtual and face-to-face learning interactions in higher education to foster individual and collaborative learning. Regarding the second aspect, learning becomes more and more personalized in learner generated contexts because learners have increasing control over their learning goals achieved via the support of personalized mobile technologies (Jones and Issroff 2007; Sharples et al. 2007; Wong et al. 2011).
Although personalized learning exists in online learning environments (e.g., Aroyo and Dicheva 2004; Huang et al.
2007; Wong and Looi 2009, 2010), personalized learning
supported by mobile technologies renders learners a sense of ownership and control over their learning in the changing contexts (Laurillard 2007). Some studies indicate that home
access to learning resources via the internet have increased opportunities for personalized learning and continuity of learning between home and school, and improve learner independence and motivation (Kerawalla et al. 2007;
Livingstone 2007). Indeed, mobile learning offers a
perspective that differs dramatically from personalized conventional e-learning in that it supports learning that recognizes the context and history of each individual learner and delivers learning to the learner when and where she/he wants it. For example, Song and Fox (2008) reported a 1-year
multiple-case study of investigating into how undergraduate students used smartphones to support their English vocabulary learning anytime, anywhere, such as campus, transports, home, lecture rooms, dormitories and so on. In the study, three individual students from different disciplinary studies, namely,
journalism, engineering and biotechnology were involved. The research results show that the students had a variety of smartphone uses based on their own learning goals and they developed personalized ways of vocabulary learning, and enhanced their efficiency in their personalized academic studies.
However, in reviewing the literature related to personalized learning supported by mobile technologies, the majority of the research has been rather technological-driven. Some studies have encouraged students to use existing social tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Dropbox on mobile applications to build and share their personalized learning experiences (Bowen 2011). Some studies are concerned with offering intelligent-based solutions (e.g., Chen and Chung 2008;
Anderson et al. 2001; Meawad and Stubbs 2006). Other
studies look into adaptive (usually context-aware) learning content retrieval and/or sequencing (e.g., Hwang et al. 2010;
Ogata and Yano 2004; Zhao and Okamoto 2011). Petersen and
Markiewicz (2009) criticized the latter type of studies for treating contextualization and personalization as synonyms. Instead, they distinguished the two concepts by considering personalization as part of contextualization. Much less work has been done on providing evidence of the process of personalized learning in environments that move with the learners and in the continuously reconstructed contexts of student-centred, experiential learning environments. Experiential learning
Kolb‘s experiential learning model focuses on experience as the main force driving learning because ―Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the
transformation of experience‖ (1984, p. 38). Thus learning is a
constructive process in context. It happens in a cyclical model consisting of four stages: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and testing in new situations (de Freitas and Neumann 2009; Kolb 1984; Lai et al.
2007). This model requires that learning scenarios, which may embed a series of different objectives, activities and outcomes, be integrated into the experiential pedagogical design. One issue to be addressed is to move away from a set of sequencing of learning to more options (Barton and Maharg 2007). That is,
learning for each individual may take place in different ways, ultimately leading to greater opportunities for personalized, active and transformative learning experiences. These different routes for learning have the potential to provide students increased engagement and personalization with the assistance of mobile technologies, which is what our study is intended to explore.
Mobile-assisted experiential learning
Owing to the unique characteristics of individuality, connectivity, context sensitivity, mobility, and social interactivity (Squire and Klopfer 2007), mobile technologies
have been increasingly used in educational applications with a contextual focus to support ―field-trip‖ methodologies (Patten
et al. 2006) of experiential learning. A variety of embedded functions such as camera, recording, note-taking and online and/or downloaded resources in the mobile devices have been used in the field trips to (a) support ―concrete experience‖ by capturing the features of plants or animals to record the authentic phenomena; (b) support ―reflective observation‖ by taking down ―just-in-time‖ notes and recording timely
observational information, and access online or downloaded resources to aid observation; (c) support ―abstract
conceptualization‖ by visiting and organizing the captured and recorded information when reporting the field trip observations, and (d) support ―testing in new situations‖ by re-
visiting the information and making use of the conceptualized knowledge gained in the field trip.
However, in many cases, the prior research on mobile-assisted field trips has emphasized students‘ experiential learning in limited, episodic time spans of the activities, and making summative assessment in terms of pre- and post-tests and questionnaire surveys (e.g., Chu et al. 2010; Lai et al. 2007).
For instance, Lai et al. (2007) conducted an experiment to
explore the possibilities that mobile technologies could provide for fifth grade students in their experiential learning. In the experiment, a mobile technology system on a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) was developed to facilitate the 90-min experiential learning in a school garden to study a type of plant. The target students followed the designed learning flow consisting of six stages: photo taking, sensory experience, further observation, comparison, question proposing and final report (Lai et al. 2007). Although these studies claim that they have applied the experiential learning model, in general, student learning experiences are not continuous, but come to a halt right after the field trip or after the students have completed their report. According to Falk (2004), conceptual
knowledge gains can hardly be achieved in short visits of an unfamiliar context, where prior knowledge and understandings can be consolidated and reinforced. Personalized learning may not be fostered in such a learning environment.
One exceptional study attempted to evaluate the possibilities of implementing mobile learning across school and museum settings in a long term (Vavoula et al. 2009). In the study, the
students made use of a platform—MyArtSpace on mobile
phones for inquiry learning. It is claimed that the platform allowed students to collect information during a school field trip to a museum, which was automatically sent to a website where they could view, share and present it back in the classroom. In the evaluation of the trial use of MyArtSpace platform at micro (issues of usability), meso (educational effectiveness) and macro (impact of the mobile technology on museum visits practice) levels, questionnaire surveys and teacher and student interviews were conducted. However, it is