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A Comparison Of Conventional And Self Paced Web Based Courses: A Theoretical Analysis

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Technology for Learning

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.26.1 - 7.26.10



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Billy Koen

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Section 3430

A Comparison of Conventional and Self-Paced Web-Based Courses: A Theoretical Analysis

Billy V. Koen

Department of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Texas/Austin, USA

1. Introduction Studying and completing a web-based course is behavior. It is something a student does. The current international interest in delivering instruction over the Internet emphasizes the importance of a careful behavioral analysis of this new educational mode. This paper reviews reinforcement theory and applies it to a conventional web course in which instruction is delivered synchronously and to one in which students complete units asynchronously. An example of synchronous delivery is a course developed using courseware such as Prometheus, WebCT, Blackboard, or TopClass in which units are studied, homework is graded, and exams are administered at stated, fixed intervals; an example of asynchronous delivery is a web-based course developed as a strict implementation of the Personalized System of Instruction (PSI) in which students study at their own pace and are evaluated, encouraged, and taught using student proctors. This paper contrasts the different reinforcers, contingencies of reinforcement, and schedules of reinforcement in the two cases. The strengths and weaknesses of both regimes are analyzed from a theoretical point of view. Experimental results are then given for a course using the self-paced strategy to confirm the theoretical predictions.

2. Theoretical background (behaviorism) The present analysis is based on a theory of learning developed by B. F. Skinner called behaviorism.1,2 Other learning theories exist, to be sure, but the work of Skinner has the advantage of being supported by an extensive body of research over a long period of time. In addition, many of these alternative theories can be subsumed into behaviorism. Behaviorism (or reinforcement theory as it is sometimes called) is based on the Thorndike’s Law of Effect. 3 This law asserts that behavior is modified by its consequences. Therefore, to modify a student’s study and learning behavior, a teacher should reinforce (reward) good behavior and ignore bad behavior. Theory predicts and experiment shows that this strategy increases the probability that the individual will exhibit the desired behavior in the future. The first major problem in implementing a reinforcement approach to behavior modification is to determine appropriate reinforcers or rewards. Fortunately, this is not a major

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Expositio n Copyright Ó 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Koen, B. (2002, June), A Comparison Of Conventional And Self Paced Web Based Courses: A Theoretical Analysis Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--11346

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