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Title: Learning in virtual environments : an integrative approach for understanding the adoption, engagement and learning achievement in digital contexts
Author: Beyle, Christian
ISNI:       0000 0004 5921 6682
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2015
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The main goal of the research presented in this doctoral thesis is to extend and enhance knowledge about the use of information and communication technology for learning purposes and its effects on the learning output. An integrative approach was utilised to combine elements from different perspectives – including attitudes, motivations, learning profiles, and behaviour – to build a theoretical framework which takes into account the learner characteristics and their interaction with virtual learning environments (VLE) in the achievement of learning goals. It is proposed that by accurate representation of the learner, and identifying relevant milestones along the learning process, it would be possible to enhance both the adoption of learning technology and the attainment of learning goals with a single framework. In order to accomplish the research goal four studies were conducted. Study 1 tested the most utilised approaches on adoption and effectiveness of learning technology, based on Davis’ Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) and a selection of indicators of learning effectiveness in virtual environments. The participants were 168 teachers enrolled in a 5-week e-learning course, who were asked to complete two questionnaires. The first questionnaire was delivered the first week of the course and it aimed to assess the variables related to the adoption of the learning technology (perceived ease of use and usefulness, previous experience with computers, intention of use, and behavioural planning). The second questionnaire was delivered once the course was finished and aimed to assess the time spent on the learning activities (online and offline), the satisfaction with the course, and the self-perceived learning. The final mark of the participants was collected as an objective indicator of learning achievement. Results showed that a significant pathway can be observed from individual attitudes towards learning achievement through behavioural planning and actual use. Nonetheless, the explained variance was low, indicating that the model must be improved. The second and third studies were aimed to test variables that could be included in the model in order to improve it. The second study was cross-sectional and included 268 participants. It tested the relationship between learning approach, academic locus of control, and the learning environment characteristics – comparing one highly structured and one unstructured environment – with the core of the adoption of TAM. Structural Equation Modelling revealed an important effect of learning approach on attitudes and intention of use, and a significant improvement of the explained variance over study 1. The third study collected the responses of 115 participants, assessing the role of learner goals, thoughts about technology, learning style, and learning approach on attitudes and behaviour. As in the previous study, an important effect of learning approach was found on attitudes and on the behavioural indicators. The effect of learning style, goals, and thoughts about technology was not significant for the adoption parameters. The overall power of the adoption model was highly improved. Study 4 aimed to test a new version of the model comprising adoption and effectiveness of learning technology. It involved the use of specially developed software to assist students in learning programming. Based on the previous studies and considering their limitation, a repeated measures design was chosen involving 30 students of higher education for 12 weeks, assessing their learning process each week. A baseline of the knowledge on programming was measured at week 1, and was re assessed at week 6 and week 12. The marks of 4 assessments along the course were collected, and every week the attitudes towards the software, the module and its contents, and the time spent on the learning activities were collected. The results showed a strong effect of learning approach on attitudes and on the behavioural parameters, and how that effect decayed with time. Nonetheless, the engagement of the students with the learning activities and exercises was reinforced by the proximity of each assessment. The main conclusions of the present research are that the adoption of learning technology, the engagement with it over time, and the achievement of learning goals lie on the interaction of individual characteristics, the learning environment design, and the instructional design utilised. Being more precise, three stages on the adoption and use of learning technology can be distinguished, namely adoption, engagement, and goal achievement. The adoption of learning technology is strongly influenced by individual characteristics that shapes the attitudes towards the use of technology to achieve learning goals. Later on, the engagement with the technology will be sustained by the satisfaction of the user with it, especially considering its functional aspects. Finally, the materials and activities together with the plan of instruction will play a role on the level of achievement of the learners. The limitations of the research, and the theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.
Supervisor: Nicolson, Rod ; Millings, Abigail Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available