A changing learning environment: The benefits of online learning for scientific inquiry

Year: 2019

Author: Mamun, Md, Abdullah, Al, Lawrie, Gwen, Wright, Tony

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The aim of this presentation is to review the current body of literature pertaining to inquiry learning and the embedding of scaffolding into its fabric, as applied in online contexts to support students’ conceptual learning. Over the past three decades, a plethora of research studies have been conducted indicating that there is substantial empirical and theoretical evidence revealing that scientific inquiry can facilitate meaningful knowledge construction leading to higher achievement for students. A wealth of educational resources such as simulations, animations and other visual resources, influenced by a cognitive constructivist perspective and blogs, online forums, shared learning environments designed on the back of social constructivist perspectives are becoming available allowing students’ opportunities to explore individual interests and build upon prior experiences in open learning spaces.

The potential of online environment to provide consistently, supportive environments may, however be weakened by students’ inability to regulate the crucial aspects of their learning. The current body of research indicates that many students have difficulty regulating their learning without direct teacher support. As such, students dealing with hypermedia in online environments need to make decisions about many facets of learning including what to learn, how to learn it, how much time is needed to spend on learning, how to access and use instructional materials, and to determine whether they understand the material.

Despite such challenges, continual research in this field has shown that the online inquiry learning environment reveals promise as a means of facilitating student conceptual understanding; however, to work successfully in this mode requires carefully tailored scaffolding supports for self-regulation to occur and to act as a substitute for teacher support and face-to-face guidance. Therefore, the nature of pedagogical support in the online self-directed environment requires concerted investigation by researchers to determine the condition required for successful implementation. To this end, the aim of this presentation is to review the current body of research to investigate three key aspects that support the theory on the positive effects of online inquiry learning in promoting students’ conceptual understanding within the science domain. The three areas for investigation are: a) the nature of inquiry learning process; b) types of scaffolding provided; and c) how it supports students’ conceptual understanding. The findings of this review will contribute to the growing knowledge in the field of technology and learning.