In any formal education system, there is inevitably tension between the freedom available to the learner to define what they want to learn and the authority of the educator or the educational system in laying down the curriculum. One of the advantages of the new web-based environments is the scope they provide for learners to identify and pursue their own areas of interests. The importance of learners being in control of their own learning is identified by some educational thinkers as one of the key ingredients of good learning; Rogers (1980) promotes the value of self-initiated, spontaneous and significant learning; Papert (1993) argues that the best learning takes place when the learner takes charge.
"a good learning experience should involve choice and variety"
While this tension may be hard to resolve within mass education systems, a measure of opportunity for learners to take greater control of the detail of the content and direction of their learning and to engage in activities they care about is undoubtedly a desirable factor in good learning.
The value of choice in learning exists at other levels too. For example, much work has been done to identify and understand differences in the ways individuals go about studying and learning. A variety of dimensions have been defined, from differences in personality, environmental preferences and preferred perceptual modalities to different motives and strategies for learning. Although the diversity of classifications that have been put forward has led to a confusion of definitions (Murray-Harvey 1994), one broad conclusion from this field of research is that a good learning experience should involve choice and variety over how information is accessed and presented.
Acknowledging learning as a multisensory experience provides further pointers about good learning. We learn through different senses and learning can be made more effective when senses reinforce each other (Levin 1989). Moreover, we are more likely to remember the content of a learning situation if we can remember what we were doing and what we were looking at while we were there. This relationship between procedural, episodic and semantic memory leads Biggs (1999, 78) to recommend that 'learning straight declarative knowledge, the stuff of academia, is best done in association with a rich store of images.'
Last updated: Wed Aug 28 2002
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