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Front. ICT | doi: 10.3389/fict.2018.00003

Challenge of helping introductory physics students transfer their learning by engaging with a self-paced learning tutorial

  • 1University of Pittsburgh, United States
  • 2West Virginia University, United States

With advances in digital technology, research-validated self-paced learning tools can play an increasingly important role in helping students with diverse backgrounds become good problem solvers and independent learners. Thus, it is important to ensure that all students engage with self-paced learning tools effectively in order to learn the content deeply, develop good problem-solving skills, and transfer their learning from one context to another. Here we first provide an overview of a holistic framework for engaging students with self-paced learning tools so that they can transfer their learning to solve novel problems. The framework not only takes into account the features of the self-paced learning tools but also how those tools are implemented, the extent to which the tools take into account student characteristics, and whether factors related to students’ social environments are accounted for appropriately in the implementation of those tools. We then describe an investigation in which we interpret the findings using the framework. In this study, a research-validated self-paced physics tutorial was implemented in both controlled one-on-one interviews and in large enrollment, introductory calculus-based physics courses as a self-paced learning tool. We find that students who used the tutorial in a controlled one-on-one interview situation performed significantly better on transfer problems than those who used it as a self-paced learning tool in the large-scale implementation. The findings suggest that critically examining and taking into account how the self-paced tools are implemented and incentivized, student characteristics including their self-regulation and time-management skills, and social and environmental factors can greatly impact the extent and manner in which students engage with these learning tools. Motivating and getting buy-in from students of the value of these tools and providing appropriate support while implementing them is critical for ensuring that students, who otherwise may be constrained by motivational, social, and environmental factors, engage effectively with the tools in order to learn deeply and transfer their learning.

Keywords: Self-paced learning, Adaptive Learning, personalized learning, Transfer of learning, Physics education research

Received: 24 Oct 2017; Accepted: 12 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

James D. Slotta, Boston College, United States

Reviewed by:

Licia M. Montagna, Humanitas Research Hospital, Italy
S. Raj Chaudhury, University of South Alabama, United States  

Copyright: © 2018 Marshman, DeVore and Singh. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Emily M. Marshman, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, United States, emm101@pitt.edu