Learning where it counts: an ecological argument for online education
by Brent Fonville; Rick Dale
International Journal of Learning Technology (IJLT), Vol. 6, No. 3, 2011

Abstract: The implementation of learning technologies for online instruction and relevant testing raises issues concerning the ready availability and use of external reference materials that students may consult during evaluation but are not commonly found in in-class courses, such as the internet, class notes, and so on. Yet, the presence of such materials may be ecologically valid with respect to daily cognitive performance in any domain (e.g., reasoning and decision-making in everyday life). This paper reviews three related theories of cognitive science as they argue for an integrative cognitive system that includes external artefacts, and thus go beyond 'internal' processes as the sole purveyors of cognition. The paper then uses these theories to frame an argument that the use of online learning technologies could be considerably more ecologically valid than in-class testing based on this integrated external cognitive approach. The paper ends with some suggestions on improving online testing and increasing its ecological validity by embracing the view that cognition extends beyond the brain.

Online publication date: Tue, 08-Nov-2011

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