Promoting learner self-direction with task-centered learning activities in a general education biology course
Francom, Gregory Merrill
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There is currently a growing recognition of the importance of knowledge and skills that enable students to self-direct and self-regulate personal learning processes. This type of knowledge and skill has received recent attention in higher educational contexts. Despite this attention, it is not widely known how learner self-direction can best be fostered among students in formal education environments. One possible method involves centering learning on real-world tasks or problems. Conceptual connections have been made in the literature between learner self-direction and task-centered learning, yet little empirical research currently supports this connection. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of a task-centered approach in a large-enrollment general education biology course on learner self-direction and students’ understanding of science concepts. This quasi-experimental study compared two course sections (control and treatment) on measures of learner self-direction and conceptual understanding. The treatment section incorporated learning tasks that required groups of students to work together to apply their science and biology knowledge while the control section incorporated note taking and other activities. Results from this study indicate that students in the control and treatment sections did not significantly differ from each other on the measure of learner self-direction, nor did either section significantly change over time on this measure. Additionally, students in the control and treatment groups did not significantly differ from each other on the measure of students’ understanding of science concepts. Both sections increased to the same degree on this measure over the semester. In a task survey, students responded that they lacked intrinsic motivation and personal monitoring when doing the learning tasks. However students also reported that they felt the learning tasks were realistic and required the use of information literacy skills. Overall, results from this study suggest that students who learn in a task-centered approach do not increase in learner self-direction any more than students who do not learn in a task-centered approach. The results also suggest that students do not necessarily increase their conceptual understanding in a task-centered learning environment more than in another learning environment.