Friday, 27 February 2009

iTunes U better than attending class?

ReadWriteWeb and New Scientist picked up on a preliminary piece of research that suggests better retention and learning is achieved through using an audio podcast of a lecture than actually attending it.

To find out how much students really can learn from podcast lectures alone - mimicking a missed class - McKinney's team presented 64 students with a single lecture on visual perception, from an introductory psychology course.

Half of the students attended the class in person and received a printout of the slides from the lecture. The other 32 downloaded a podcast that included audio from the same lecture synchronised with video of the slides. These students also received a printed handout of the material.

The researchers told the students they would be tested on the material in a week, and they also asked students to hold onto their class notes.

The results?

Students who downloaded the podcast averaged a C (71 out of 100) on the test - substantially better than those who attended the lecture, who on average mustered only a D (62).

But that difference vanished among students who watched the podcast but did not take notes. Students who listened to the podcast one or more times and took notes had an average score of 77.

Stephen Downes rightly questions the soundness of the research but this is just preliminary results and hopefully more substantial findings will be reported, not just the attention grabbing headline. However we already know from plenty of other studies that note-taking forms a big component of effective reflection and processing of new information. We also know that the ability to learn at your own pace, rewind/review video and audio must aid comprehension. We also know that it is extremely difficult for most human beings to concentrate fully in a lecture environment which has far too many environmental variables that are likely to compete against the goal of effective knowledge transfer and comprehension (interruptions, noise, stilted delivery of speaker, poor viewing position etc). Note that I make a clear distinction between a lecture/presentation and a carefully designed interactive session/workshop.

So, while this study is not enough on its own here are some other supporting studies.

There is another specific study that comparatively tested podcasts, video and text transcript as distance learning alternatives to physically attending lectures and found positive results - can't find the reference myself - can anyone help on that?

1 comment:

Steve Ehrmann said...

I ignore ALL research on technology that doesn't provide data on how the instructor was actually teaching, and how the students were actually learning. This provides a little information on the latter, but none on the former. if you imagine that the instructor was doing all the talking, and if you imagine that (for any of a number of reasons) it was important that students hear what the instructor said more than once, then an iPod user (who could rewind) would probably learn more than a live listener (who could not). In contrast, imagine if conversation had been important for learning in the class...