About this Research Topic
Over three decades, the Internet has brought both new opportunities and challenges for learning in higher education. To build coherent knowledge, students must select and critique online information, and analyze, synthesize, and integrate often conflicting information from multiple sources. By habitually relying on the first few search results and avoiding information that contradicts their beliefs students may miss important content and fall prey to bias.
Googling without reflecting on the content and the quality of search results may lead to the acquisition of misconceptions resulting from the acceptance of unwarranted claims and information. This is difficult to avoid as it may occur without the students' awareness. This is opposed to the acquisition of academically or scientifically substantiated conceptual, procedural, and transferable knowledge and understanding that has a long half-life, meets epistemic standards, can be reconciled with ethical norms and moral values, and is flexible in adapting to the availability of new information. Current studies indicate a decrease in students' domain-specific knowledge over the course of their higher education studies, an increase in the development of misconceptions and false (inter)disciplinary concepts, leading to the acquisition of false information among students who report that they predominantly use online sources for learning, while also claiming to be confident in their (lacking) knowledge and skills.
Students' mental strategies for selecting, processing, and learning might likely be insufficient for what is demanded for effective understanding and participation in a complex and ever-changing environment. Moreover, the internalization of this biased or false information subsequently affects learning by acting to inhibit or distort more advanced information processing and knowledge acquisition. Current digital learning environments contribute dramatically to cognitive overload and cognitive dissonance, increasing the danger that learners will commit reasoning errors. As a result, learners may neglect complex, abstractly presented academic knowledge (e.g., in textbooks) and rely more on lower-quality information, as may be encountered in social media, that is consistent with their beliefs and biases and that is easy to comprehend. Unique to this era is that no matter which subject they decide to study, all students begin their studies after years of prior learning and knowledge gained from the Internet and after having been exposed to the information structures and engagement mechanisms of online media, which by their very nature do not observe disciplinary boundaries. Domain-specific and epistemic misconceptions are nothing new, but these days they are far more entrenched and thus harder to eliminate.
Established theories and concepts aiming to explain, predict, or even influence learning in higher education stem from an era in which learning was primarily institutionalized, medially and technologically limited, highly disciplinary, and characterized by minor variations in teaching methodology. To address proactively and effectively the challenges posed by Internet learning, we urgently need to integrate theories and models that adequately describe and explain student learning in ever-changing learning environments.
Highly original theoretical, conceptual, and empirical studies that offer examinations and explanations of the themes of this Research Topic are welcomed. This involves studies related to:
- Teaching and learning across different environments in the digital age;
- The fundamental contribution of higher education to society and human development;
- The generation and dissemination of knowledge; and,
- Modes of inquiry.
Moreover, within this Research Topic, we aim to collect papers from different countries and encompass analyses in several disciplines related to higher education learning and its assessment.
Keywords: digital education, online learning, online assessment, online reasoning, learning process analytics
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.