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Designing Interactive Learning SystemsPhilip Barker aa Interactive Systems Research Group , Teesside Polytechnic , UKPublished online: 09 Jul 2006.
To cite this article: Philip Barker (1990) Designing Interactive Learning Systems, Innovations inEducation & Training International, 27:2, 125-145, DOI: 10.1080/1355800900270202
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1355800900270202
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ETTI 27, 2 125
Designing Interactive Learning SystemsPhilip Barker, Interactive Systems Research Group, Teesside Polytechnic, UK
Experience with interactive learning systems has become an important aspect of both formaland informal curriculum activity. This paper starts by discussing the underlying mechanismsupon which these systems are based. A description is then given of some general design modelsand guidelines for their production, before the paper goes on to look at some of the currentlyavailable production tools and fabrication technologies. Finally, some case studies arepresented and potential future directions of development are outlined.
The term 'interactive learning system' (ILS) isone which is employed quite extensively in theliterature of education. It can be used to cover awide range of learning situations in which varioustypes of knowledge or information exchange takeplace between communicating partners that areinvolved in some form of dialogue process (Barker,1989a). Such a process usually involves the co-ordinated and synchronized exchange of infor-mation using agreed conventions and procedures.As well as being multi-centred (involving manypartners), dialogues may also be multi-media(involving several different communicationchannels) and multi-modal (involving a variety ofphysical, perceptual and conceptual modalities).
In order to provide a conceptual framework thatwill facilitate an understanding of the nature ofinteractive learning, the fundamental principleunderlying this process needs to be discussed.The basics mechanism that is responsible for thecharacteristic behaviour of an ILS is illustratedschematically in Figure 1. This depicts how twosystems (a learner population and a learning/teaching facility) interact with each other.Essentially, this interaction involves the twosystems in mutually influencing each other's 'statespace', thereby causing various state transitions tooccur (Barker, 1989a). The state space of a system
is the set of states that is deemed to be important inexplaining the behaviour that a system exhibits. Insome ways an ILS may be thought of as being bothsymmetrical and synchronous. Thus, perturbationsproduced by the learner population createreactions within the learning facility. Some ofthese reactions will be directed back to the learnerpopulation in the form of feedback. The feedbackproduced by the learning facility may also act as atype of perturbation that enables the learnerpopulation to modify or adapt the nature of anyother subsequent perturbations that it mightgenerate. The oscillatory (send-receive) nature ofthe dialogue process illustrated in Figure 1 isfundamental to the basic operation of virtually allinteractive learning systems.
As a consequence of the general dialogue processthat has been outlined above, a variety of differentsystem changes may occur. For example, thelearning facility may build various models of thelearner population and then use those models togenerate learning pathways and methodologies.Similarly, in the case of the learner populationcognitive, perceptual and physical developmentmay take place as a direct result of the interaction.Naturally, as we shall discuss later, the design ofan ILS should optimize these developmentalprocesses. Another prerequisite for the ILS isthat its teaching facility should be dynamicallyresponsive to the needs of its learner population.
126 ETTI27, 2
Figure 1. The basic nature of interactive learning
Designing Interactive Learning Systems 127
Therefore, like this population, the teachingfacility should exhibit adaptive behaviour.
Two general types of ILS currently exist: human-centred and technology-based. Human-centredsystems depend primarily upon the various typesof 1:1, 1:N and M:N interactions that take placewithin groupings of human beings who have been'brought together' in order to facilitate somelearning process. The dynamic interactionsinvolved in this type of system may be derivedfrom a variety of different kinds of tutor/tutee,presenter/audience or learner group situation. Incontrast, a technology-based system dependsupon the interactions that take place betweenmembers of the learner population and the variouslearning technologies used to initiate and sustainthe required pedagogic processes that the system isintended to support. The interactions involved inthis type of system depend upon the correct andappropriate use of workbooks, audiotape, video,computer-based resources, broadcast TV, radioand various other sorts of equipment. Systems thatintegrate the use of many different instructionaltechnologies are often referred to as multi-medialearning systems (Barker, 1989b).
This paper, however, is only concerned withtechnology-based learning. Moreover, it dealsspecifically with interactive learning systemsthat embed (or are dependent on) some sort ofcomputer facility. In those situations wherecomputers are used to implement systems of thistype, the learner population might be:
just a single user as is the case in manyindividualized computer-assisted learning(CAL) systems (Barker and Yeates, 1985;Barker, 1989b);
a localized network of users within a terminallaboratory; or
a geographically distributed 'virtual classroom'of students as would be the situation incomputer conferencing, electronic mail andother forms of computer-mediated communi-cation (Mason and Kaye, 1989).
This paper is primarily concerned with the first ofthese three categories of pedagogic environment that is, multi-media interactive learning systemsthat support various forms of individualized study(Tucker, 1989; Barker, 1989b; Laurillard, 1987).
Computer-based systems to support this mode oflearning vary quite considerably both in their intent
and in their sophistication. There is, therefore, avery broad spectrum of possibilities. Previously,depending on the types of facility that they offerand the nature of the pedagogy that is involved, wehave used a three-class taxonomy for interactivelearning systems: exploratory, informatory andinstructional (Barker, 1989b). Of course, anyspecific interactive learning environment couldexhibit some (or all) of the properties of any ofthese three classes depending upon the pedagogicobjectives that are to be realized.
Another classificatory phrase that is often usedwithin the CAL literature to describe certaintypes of interactive learning system, is 'learningsupport environment' (LSE). An LSE provides aset of tools and an environment that will facilitatethe exploration of some field of knowledge(Hammond and Allinson, 1988). The intent of (andmechanisms underlying) an LSE are essentiallysimilar to those involved in an exploratory inter-active learning system. Therefore, as far as thispaper is concerned the terms LSE and ILS will beregarded as synonomous.
In the remainder of this paper an attempt will bemade to cover four major issues relating to thedesign, fabrication and use of multi-media inter-active learning systems. First, some backgroundconsiderations will be presented. Second, anoutline will be given of some of the design toolsthat are nee