Meaning making in a real-world situation is context-diverse
and requires deep thinking, soliciting opinions and engaging
the thoughts of others through communication. Traditionally,
technology has been used to deliver and communicate instructions
to the student who will hopefully comprehend those instructions
and learn from them. It is also assumed that people learn
from technology, by watching television or documentaries,
responding to programmed instruction or listening to a teacher
in class. But Jonassen (1992) argues that technology does
not directly mediate learning. Instead, learning is mediated
by thinking, and thinking is set in motion by learning activities,
and learning activities are mediated by instructional interventions,
including technology. This article will briefly mention the
background of the use of Information Communication Technology
(ICT) in learning, discuss why ICT is able to elicit meaningful
learning from learners who are dispersed in space and time,
as well as describe a way of how this is achieved.
Historical & theoretical background
Since the commercialisation of the Internet around the mid-90s,
we have observed not only a stark transformation of the educational
landscape, but also a shift in the educational value system
in favour of instructors facilitating social learning, nurturing
critical and independent thinking, as well as inculcating
life-long learning skills and habits. Much of this transformation
has been based on the application of socio-constructivist
learning theory. As a philosophy of learning, constructivism
is “founded on the premise that, by reflecting on our
experiences, we construct our own understanding of the world
we live in” (On Purpose Associates, 1998–2001).
As an extension of the constructivist view of personal effort
in meaning making, socio-constructivism theorises that the
meaningful construction of knowledge occurs when a learner
interacts with other learners.
Epistemological basis for ICT-mediated learning
If learning is a generative process, the mind is always
in search of and is responsible for knowledge acquisition
through the engagement of cognitive processing based on prior
knowledge and experiences. But “it is not reasonable
to assume that all knowledge should be personally constructed,
as completely idiosyncratic knowledge constructions would
result in intellectual chaos. Socially constructed reality
will always maintain an important role in society” and
constitutes the “conceptual glue that reconciles schemas
and the glue that hold societies together” (Jonassen,
1992. p. 5). Hence, while it is conceptually viable to implement
socio-constructivist learning in the classroom, it was not
until the advent of ICT that we have begun to see how social
learning is able to take place beyond the classroom spanning
across cities, countries, continents and time zones.
At the heart of an ICT-mediated socio-constructivist learning
environment is the joint-problem-space (JPS). By definition,
a JPS “is a shared knowledge structure that supports
problem solving activity by integrating goals, descriptions
of the current problem state, awareness of available problem
solving equations”/resources and “those associations
that relate goals, features of the current problem state,
and available actions” (Roschelle & Teasley, 1995,
p. 70). An ICT-supported JPS is able
to sustain synchronous1 and/or
asynchronous collaborative work between geographically dispersed
learners in different time zones. Consequently through an
ICT-aided JPS, collaborative problem solving “amplifies
the learner’s cognitive processes while using those
technologies” (Jonassen, 1992, p. 3) which make it possible
for peers separated by distance and time zones to solve problems
within “a negotiated and shared conceptual space, constructed
through the external mediational framework of shared language,
situation and activity—not merely inside the cognitive
contents of each individual’s head” (Roschelle
& Teasley, 1995, p. 71).
Features of an ICT-mediated learning environment
ICT is able to embody JPS by providing functional features
such as information banks, symbol pads, construction
kits, phenomenaria2 and task managers
(Duffy & Jonassen, 1992) that could be integrated within a Learning Management System3 (LMS). Jonassen states that these features facilitate a series
of interactive online activities that
“trigger the learners’ schemata4”
and prompt learners to interpret new information for themselves
and in mutual consultation with other learners; after assimilating
new information back into their schemata, “learners
reorganise their schemata in the light of the newly interpreted
information, and then use those newly aggrandised schemata
to explain, interpret, or infer new knowledge” (Jonassen,
1992, p. 3). Lest the learners construct knowledge that is
“completely idiosyncratic” and “results
in intellectual chaos” (Jonassen, 1992, p. 5), it
is vital that a Subject Matter Expert5 (SME) validates this new knowledge. By
functioning as an e-Coach6, the
SME provides a crucial element of human intervention within
an ICT-mediated learning environment to eradicate any misconceptions
that learners might have as they construct new knowledge.
An example of how ICT can mediate learning
One technical example of ICT-mediated learning is to ask
learners to make decisions about an online case study, or
a series of online case studies, by manipulating variables
and then checking boxes, radio-buttons or clicking hotspots
via a web form. ICT encapsulates learners’ inputs through
these web forms and then retains the inputs within a database
repository, each web form creating a new data entry record
in the repository. Each record can be retrieved from the database, collated with other records and displayed
on an Active-Server-Page7 (ASP).
The ASP will bring to the learners’ attention any misconceptions
of making a particular choice(s); it pegs and displays the
overall percentage of all other learners who have made the
same choice(s) alongside the choice(s) made by the learner.
Next, the teacher or SME functions as an e-Coach to give
overall comments on the activity and facilitate a peer review
process through the use of an online discussion forum within
the LMS hosting the learning activity, or that functions independently
from the host LMS. The e-Coach monitors if learners have any
misconceptions about the subject matter and intervenes when
the discussion is derailed. Alternatively, discussions can
be conducted synchronously using chat rooms; but unless well
regulated, chat rooms can be very chaotic when participants
try to chat simultaneously.
Implementing an ICT-mediated socio-constructivist learning
environment is not without drawbacks such as a high attrition
rate. Frequently, many learners may participate in online
activities out of necessity or curiosity; however, their participation
rate, especially in discussion forums, tends to diminish over
time. This may be due to a lack of motivation, cultural clashes,
fear of rebuttal and losing face, fear of engagement because
of language difficulties, or a combination of such factors.
To combat attrition rates, one can communicate a consequence
of non-participation or enforce some sort of penalty if learners
are found to be over-domineering or defiant within discussion
forums. A positive way to encourage motivation is to award
points for putting up a good argument that helps other learners
No matter how sophisticated ICT may be, it is incapable
of thought and merely facilitates the scaffolding of knowledge.
Unlike a competent human e-Coach, ICT cannot ascertain a learner’s
motivational levels and language skills, detect semantic and
cultural differences, and gauge learners’ communication
abilities. Not all learners possess the same intellect and
effective questioning skills that will help them engage in
profitable dialogue and cut through information overload.
In this regard, when machines solely mediate teaching and
learning, such efforts are likely to be doomed to failure.
Hence, the presence of a competent e-Coach (e.g. who is knowledgeable,
able to encourage participation, communicates well) is vital
in making ICT-mediated learning succeed.
Duffy, Thomas M. & Jonassen, David H. (1992). Constructivism
and the Technology of Instruction. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
Jonassen, David H. (1992). ‘What are Cognitive Tools?’.
In Kommers, Piet A.M.; Jonassen, David H. & Mayers, J.
Terry. (Eds.). Cognitive Tools for Learning. Germany:
Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, NATO Scientific Affairs
Division, pp. 1–6.
Roschelle, Jeremy & Teasley, Stephanie D. (1995). ‘The
Construction of Shared Knowledge in Collaborative Problem
Solving’. In O’Malley, Claire. (Ed). Computer
Supported Collaborative Learning. Germany: Springer-Verlag
Berlin Heidelberg, NATO Scientific Affairs Division, pp. 69–97.
On Purpose Associates. (1998–2001). ‘Constructivism’.
Funderstanding. [Electronic Citation]. http://www.funderstanding.com/constructivism.cfm (Last accessed: 8 November 2002).
1 Occurring or existing at the
same time, or having the same period or phase (adapted from
the definition supplied by http://www.dictionary.com/ (Last accessed: 30 December 2002).
2 An area for specific purpose
of presenting phenomena and making them accessible to scrutiny
and manipulation such as e.g. online hub and spoke diagrams,
“experimental apparatus, simulation games physics ‘microworlds’
” (Duffy & Jonassen, 1992. p.47) and constructivist
games such as Civilization and SimCity.
3 A web-based software
solution that support, tracks, administers and manages the
delivery of learning.
4 A pattern imposed on complex
reality or experience to help explain that reality, mediate
perception, or guide response (adapted from the definition
supplied by http://www.dictionary.com/ (Last accessed: 30 December 2002).
5 An individual who exhibits
the highest-level domain of knowledge.
6 A Subject Matter Expert
who mediates learning by eradicating learner misconception;
who encourages online participation, managers and resolves
conflict, and maintains decorum at the discussion forum.
7 An HTML page that includes
small, embedded programs that are processed on a Microsoft
Web server before the page is sent to the user adapted from
the definition supplied by Refsnes Data, (1999–2003),
‘Introduction to ASP’, W3Schools.Com, http://www.w3schools.com/asp/asp_intro.htm (Last accessed: 3 January 2003).