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This project is funded by
CANARIE Inc. - Learning Program

Adaptive Technology Resource Centre
Web site hosted by the
Adaptive Technology Resource Centre

Learner Preferences

One of the opportunities afforded by broadband networks is a highly responsive dynamic web interface. Broadband networks open the communication channel in both directions, enabling educational servers that can respond to each individual learner and learning context in a timely manner. With the right tools this provides the opportunity to introduce a new level of learner-centric education that is inclusive of all learners.

Most learners and educators would agree that the ideal educational environment has at its core one-on-one teaching that is closely customized to the needs of the individual learner. In all current educational sectors, one-on-one teaching is very rare. Learners must make-do with instruction geared toward the average student or the perceived norm. This leads to a large segment of marginalized students who do not fit the norm. They may differ in their background knowledge, level of understanding of the topic, learning outcome goals, learning style, learning skills and accessibility needs. With dynamic web technologies and broadband we have the opportunity to deliver the approximation of one-on-one teaching. The on-line educational environment could be responsive to a number of learner needs and preferences. These preferences could be general learning preferences or preferences related to a particular learning session.

The project demonstrates the potential benefits of personalized courseware for the learner and the impact this will have on the educator or content producer. A core assumption of learner-centric courseware delivery, whether it is simply providing device independent information or full learning-style accommodation, is that the content delivery medium can be independent of the content while still achieving a consistent learning outcome. This requires a dramatic shift in instructional design that most educators are not cognizant of when designing learning material for the web. It requires a deconstruction of teaching and a new set of authoring tools and supports. Most web-authoring tool features concentrate on the specific visual presentation of the material. They do not assist the author in extracting the content and structure and determining whether it transforms gracefully while still retaining the intended learning message. Most educators devote a great deal of attention to designing the presentation of the learning content at the expense of refining the content and its structure. Through this project we demonstrate the practical boundaries of transformable content and the tools needed to support the mastery of learner customizable teaching.

From a list of candidate preferences, we selected a refined list to be exposed in the TILE Preference Wizard. The remaining preferences are implicitly addressed.

The general preferences exposed in the Preference Wizard include:

  • Styling preferences: This includes the information layout, the font size, and the colours used on the page. For someone with low vision this may make the difference between illegible and legible content.
  • Depth of Navigation Tree: Some learners prefer to have all possible links shown on one page while others prefer to have top level links with lower level links appearing on subsequent linked-to pages.
  • Equivalent Content Requirements: Learners with sensory impairments require streaming auditory or visual information to be provided in another modality but synchronized to the primary content. The system can provide the requested type of equivalent content (captioning, ASL, video description) delivered according to the user's preference (styling, layout, reading level, etc.)
  • Language: The learner may have an alternative language requirement, or may wish the content to be displayed in two languages to support better comprehension.
  • Content Density: Some learners prefer to master an overview of the content and then learn the specifics of each subtopic, while others prefer to move sequentially through all the details of the topic.
  • Learner Scaffolding types: Learners require individualized learner supports. Some learners benefit from readily available definitions of terms, others benefit from exercises or illustrations of concepts, while still others require peer interaction to fully integrate a concept.

Preferences that relate to a specific learning session exposed in the Preference Wizard include:

  • Learner Outcome Goals: Learners approach learning content with different outcome goals. A system that organizes content in support of the outcome goal and assists the user in tracking their progression toward the goal may assist in achieving the learning outcome.
  • Topic Exclusions: In some instances, less is more. A filter to exclude content that is not of interest or is already learned may help the learner to focus on the target content.
  • Placeholders, Annotation and Knowledge Review: Progression through specific learning content would be supported by allowing the learner to create placeholders, personal annotations and by creating a synopsis or review of the previous session.

Candidate general preferences that are implicitly addressed include:

  • Classification or Sorting Preferences: Mail archives frequently offer the choice of sorting by sender, date, subject, priority level among others. Other sorting criteria could include level of difficulty, match with expressed learning outcome goals and teaching style.
  • Access Requirements: Learners with disabilities frequently require alternative access strategies such as screen reading for people who blind, or on-screen keyboards for people who cannot use a mouse or keyboard. The preferences can address both the type of alternative access technology and the preference settings for the access technology. (e.g., voice rate and pitch, key size and spacing)
  • Testing Equivalents: Learners with disabilities or language constraints are unable to answer certain kinds of test questions. These individuals require test questions in an accessible modality that are equivalent in the skills or knowledge being tested.
  • Content Views (Image intensive, text intensive): Some learners are best supported through visual illustrations of the content, while graphics and images may be distracting or inaccessible to other learners.

One candidate preference that relates to a specific learning session is implicitly addressed:

  • Facilitation of Communities of Interest. Learners vary regarding their preference for the frequency and timing of peer interaction in support of learning. Methods of facilitating group interaction while respecting personal preferences will be investigate.