Matching instructional design to field dependent and field independent learners: implications for online design in distance education
Parcels, Burtis George
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Field dependent and field independent cognitive styles are contrasting ways of perceiving and processing information. This study investigated how the cognitive styles of field dependence (FD) and field independence (FI) affect the achievement levels of distance learners. Cognitive style refers to the manner in which an individual perceives and processes information. As described by Allport style is the "particular manner of execution which permeates any highly integrated volitional activity" (Allport, 1937, p. 494). In distance education, spontaneous learner-instructor interaction is frequently neither as flexible nor as timely as it would be in conventional instruction. This research examined the effects of matching or mismatching the design of asynchronous distance education to the field dependent and the field independent learner. Horn's construction of Information Mapping© (Horn, R.E., 1989) was employed to add structure compatible with the Field Dependent learner. Subjects were administered the GEFT, a measure of field dependence-independence. Only those in the first and fourth quartiles of the resulting distribution participated the study. The first quartile was comprised of Field Dependent (FD) subjects and the fourth quartile was comprised of Field Independent (FI) subjects. Half of each group was randomly selected to receive asynchronous online instruction designed to match their cognitive style, and half received asynchronous online instruction designed to mismatch their cognitive style. Analysis of the results showed that matching the cognitive style of the FD asynchronous distance learner resulted in significant differences between the pre and post test scores. However, an analysis of the test results for the FI learners whose instruction was designed to match their cognitive style showed no significant differences from pre to post test. The FI learners whose instruction was designed to mismatch their cognitive style did show a significant difference from pre to post test. A two-by-two factor analysis showed a significant effect for the design of the modules, but no effect for cognitive style or the interaction of cognitive style and module design. Matching the FD cognitive style, in asynchronous distance education had a positive impact on achievement for both Field Dependent and Field Independent learners as measured from pre to post test.
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