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LEARNING STRATEGIES FOR DISTANCE EDUCATION STUDENTS

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The purpose of this article was to identify a potentially useful theoretical framework to classify learning strategies and to determine specific learning tactics that may be useful in a distance education environment. Although a variety of taxonomies describe and classify student learning, McKeachie, Pintrich, Lin, and Smith (1986) proposed a taxonomy that encompasses the cognitive, metacognitive, and resource management aspects of learning. In this article, this model served as the theoretical framework to further identify specific learning tactics that may be useful in a distance education environment. In terms of specific cognitive strategies, note-taking was the only tactic found to distinguish between achievement levels. Metacognitive strategies including planning, monitoring, and self-regulation distinguished between achievement levels of students. Resource management strategies such as learning schedules, quality studying, motivation, and communicating with the instructor also distinguished between achievement levels of students. Although several specific tactics have been identified aspredictors of student success, a paucity of research involving adult students in distance education environments was prevalent. Thus, research is needed to test experimentally the proposed theoretical framework and specific learning tactics in a distance education environment.
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LEARNING STRATEGIES FOR DISTANCE EDUCATION STUDENTS
Carol Filcher, Graduate Assistant
Greg Miller, Associate Professor
Iowa State University
Abstract
The purpose of this article was to identify a potentially useful theoretical framework to classify
learning strategies and to determine specific learning tactics that may be useful in a distance education
environment. Although a variety of taxonomies describe and classify student learning, McKeachie, Pintrich,

Lin, and Smith (1986) proposed a taxonomy that encompasses the cognitive, metacognitive, and resource
management aspects of learning. In this article, this model served as the theoretical framework to further

identify specific learning tactics that may be useful in a distance education environment. In terms of

specific cognitive strategies, note-taking was the only tactic found to distinguish between achievement levels.
Metacognitive strategies including planning, monitoring, and self-regulation distinguished between
achievement levels of students. Resource management strategies such as learning schedules, quality

studying, motivation, and communicating with the instructor also distinguished between achievement levels
of students. Although several specific tactics have been identified aspredictors of student success, a paucity


of research involving adult students in distance education environments was prevalent. Thus, research is
needed to test experimentally the proposed theoretical framework and specific learning tactics in a distance
education environment.

Introduction
classroom. The teaching environment is one in
which distance education instructors often must
Distance education is growing rapidly.
adapt teaching styles, develop an understanding of
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s
the delivery technology, and function effectively as
National Center for Education Statistics (1997),
a skilled facilitator and content provider (Willis,
62% of public 4-year institutions offered distance
1995a).
Agricultural faculty recognize that the
education courses in the fall of 1995. An
distance education environment is different and
estimated 25,730 different distance education
have expressed interest in information and training
courses were delivered in the 1994-95 academic
in the areas of teaching techniques, models of
year with an estimated enrollment of 753,640
effective teaching, principles of teaching, and
students. Distance education provides access to
designing instruction (Miller & Carr, 1997).
individuals in different geographical locations,
individuals unable to attend classes on campus,
If the teaching environment for agricultural
and individuals who prefer to control the timing
faculty who teach distance education courses is so
and pace of their learning (Moore, 1989; Willis,
different and challenging that it necessitates
1995a).
training and assistance in course delivery, imagine
how different the learning environment must be.
Distance education has been successful at
Learning at a distance is fraught with unique
providing access to
individuals in various
challenges. Distance education students are often
situations, but increasingly educators realize the
older and are coordinating various job and family
need to address issues of quality. Quality is an
commitments with their learning opportunities
important concern because distance education is
(Miller, 1995; Willis, 1995b). In addition, students
substantially different from the traditional
at a distance usually have limited interaction
Journal of Agricultural Education
60
Vol. 41 Issue 1 2000

because ofgeographic isolation from the instructor
workforce continually gain new knowledge to
and other students (Miller, 1995; Willis, 1995a). .
remain productive (Weisburg & Ullmer, 1995, p.
Finally, distance education students must rely on
634). “It is clear that someone that has learned
the technology to provide information for learning
how to learn and someone that continues to learn
(Willis, 1995a).
throughout his/her lifetime will be a productive
member of the workforce" (Drucker, 1994, as
These distinctive differences in the distance
cited in Weisburg & Ullmer, 1995). Distance
environment have prompted faculty improvement
education provides an avenue by which individuals
workshops to provide information to help
can access this new information and continue to
educators conquer the technology, but are
learn for the rest of their lives.
opportunities available to assist students in
succeeding in the distance environment? “In recent
While studies on effective learning
years, faculty development strategies have taken a
strategies continue to emerge, the relevancy of
different approach by addressing instructional
these studies has not been determined for specific
improvement through skill development,
educational contexts such as distance education
enhancing support services, and ensuring that
(Rothkopf, 1988, as cited in Bernt & Bugbee,
institutional reward structures reflect the rigorous
1990). Conversely, Schuemer (1993) contends
challenges confronting the effective distance
that studies have shown that teaching and learning
educator” (Willis, 1993, p. 279). Olgren (1998)
theories can be easily applied to distance
claims that these faculty programs often emphasize
education. Can studies on learning strategies
teaching strategies and assume that good teaching
conducted in traditional settings be applied to
will produce good learning.
Should faculty be
adult learners, the field of agriculture, and the
focusing their attention on empowering students to
distance education milieu?
learn?
Purpose and Objectives
One such way to empower students is to
focus on learning strategies. Learning strategies
The purpose of this paper is to identify potentially
can be defined as thoughts and behaviors intended
useful learning strategies for distance education
to influence the learner’s ability to select, acquire,
environments.
The specific objectives of this
organize, and integrate new knowledge (Weinstein
study include:
& Mayer, 1986). Learning strategies are designed
to teach learners how to learn (Jonassen, 1985).
1.
To identify a theoretical framework to
Effective learning involves knowing when to use a
classify learning strategies,
specific strategy, how to access that particular
strategy, as well as when to abandon an ineffective
2.
To determine the potential usefulness of
strategy (Jones, Sullivan Palincsar, Sederburg
specific learning tactics for off-campus
Olge, & Glynn Carr, 1987). According to Jones et
learners in colleges of agriculture.
al. (1987), both less proficient and more proficient
students are able to develop effective learning
Methods
strategies.
A library search was used to obtain
Learning strategies are important in
information for this study. Literature searches
today’s lifelong learning environment. Today’s
using the Educational Resources Information
society is facing a technological revolution where
Center (ERIC) and Psychological Abstracts
technology and information are constantly
(PsychLit) databases were conducted to determine
changing.
This society is requiring that the
the most appropriate theoretical framework. Once
Journal of Agricultural Education
61
Vol. 41 Issue 1 2000

the theoretical framework was chosen, additional
applications. Pressley (1986) examined goal-
literature searches were conducted to identify .
specific, monitoring, and higher order learning
studies that had determined the success of specific
strategies. While Pressley investigated the use of
learning tactics.
specific strategies, he did not provide a clear,
conceptual framework to apply these learning
Findings
strategies to other learning environments. The
taxonomy developed by Weinstein and Mayer
According to Pintrich (1988), a variety of
(1986) outlined learning strategies from a
taxonomies are available for describing and
cognitive perspective.
This cognitive approach
classifying students’ learning strategies including
identified specific strategies and methods available
those developed by Dansereau (1985), Pressley
to learners to assist them with selection,
(1986), W e i n s t e i n a n d M a y e r (1986), and
acquisition, construction, and integration of
McKeachie, Pintrich, Lin, and Smith (1986).
knowledge (Weinstein & Mayer, 1986). In 1986,
Dansereau (1985) developed a theoretical
McKeachie et al. incorporated elements of several
framework for learning strategies that emphasized
learning models, including the cognitive approach
primary and support strategies. The primary
established by Weinstein and Mayer (1986), into a
strategies focused on learning strategies needed
taxonomy of learning strategies. The taxonomy
for text-based materials and support strategies
proposed by McKeachie and others encompasses
needed for developing a mental environment.
the cognitive, metacognitive, and resource
Although Dansereau provided a clear framework,
management aspects of learning (Figure 1).
the primary strategies were isolated to text-based
Rehearsal Strategies
Cognitive Strategies
Elaboration Strategies
Organizational
Planning Strategies
Metacognitive Strategies
Monitoring Strategies
Regulating Strategies
Time Management
Study Environment
Resource Management Strategies
Effort Management
Support of Others
Figure 1. Taxonomy of Learning Strategies
Journal of Agricultural Education
62
Vol. 41 Issue 1 2000

According to McKeachie et al. (1986) and
and their reported use of these specific tactics
Weinstein and Mayer (1986), cognitive strategies .
(Bernt & Bugbee, 1990). In addition, the high
are important for understanding how information
achievement students reported the lowest
is processed and encoded in a learning
percentage of memorizing material that was not
environment. Metacognitive strategies allow a
understood (Bernt & Bugbee, 1990).
student to monitor his/her performance through
planning,
monitoring,
and self-regulation
Elaboration is the process by which the
(McKeachie et al., 1986). Resource management
learner builds an internal connection between what
strategies assist the student in managing the
is being learned and previous knowledge. Specific
learning environment and available resources
tactics include paraphrasing, summarizing, creating
(McKeachie et al., 1986). McKeachie et al.'s
analogies, generative note-taking, and question
(1986) taxonomy is a clear, concise, and
answering (McKeachie et al., 1986; Weinstein &
comprehensive model that provides the theoretical
Mayer, 1986). Miller (1997b), determined that
framework for this study and identifies general
87% of the students in distance education courses
learning strategies and specific learning tactics that
delivered by videotape utilized an elaborative
may be examined in a distance education
strategy by taking notes while viewing the
environment.
videotape.
Furthermore, Miller (1997a)
determined that students who took notes were
Cognitive Strategies
more likely to earn an “A” in their course.
The cognitive component of McKeachie's
Bernt and Bugbee (1990) determined that
taxonomy focuses on the methods by which
elaboration strategies were used by 50-75% of the
students actively process information and structure
students in educational environments at different
this information into memory (Weinstein
&
Mayer,
achievement levels; however, no significant
1986). This active constructive process allows the
differences were found between failing students,
learner to interpret information and connect it to
low passers, and high passers on specific tactics
existing cognitive structures (Schuemer, 1993).
such as trying to see how material applies to work
Specific cognitive strategies, in the model
situations, relating new material to familiar ideas,
proposed by McKeachie et al. (1986), include
and translating material into their own words.
rehearsal, elaboration, and organization.
Organization is the process by which the
Rehearsal strategies are employed by
learner organizes and builds connections with the
learners to remember material using repetition
information received in the learning environment
(Olgren, 1998). Specific rehearsal tactics include
(Olgren, 1998). Specific tactics associated with
“repeating the material aloud, copying the
organization include the process of selecting the
material, taking selective verbatim notes and
main idea through outlining, networking, and
underlining the most important parts of the
diagramming the information (McKeachie et al.,
material” (Weinstein & Mayer, 1986, p. 3 18). In
1986; Weinstein & Mayer, 1986).
a study conducted on adult learners in distance
education, Bemt and Bugbee (1990) examined
In the research study conducted by Miller
specific tactics such as underlining/highlighting,
(1997b), 2 1.2% of the distance education students
memorizing material, and mentally rehearsing
in videotaped situations employed organizational
important ideas.
strategies by outlining class notes.
However,
Bernt and Bugbee (1990) found no significant
No significant differences were found
differences between failing, low passing, and high
between students at different achievement levels
passing students who reported very frequently or
Journal of Agricultural Education
63
Vol. 41 Issue 1 2000

almost always organizing/condensing notes and
could be correlated with academic achievement.
summarizing with charts, diagrams, and outlines. .
Miller (1997b) determined that 43.9% of distance
education students engaged in self-regulation by
Metacoanitive Strategies
viewing videotapes for distance courses more than
once. Furthermore, Miller (1997a) was able to the
The metcognitive component of the
use this self-regulation strategy to predict student
theoretical model focuses on the skills students use
achievement as students who earned an “A” were
to plan their strategies for learning, to monitor
more likely to view the videotape more than once.
their present learning, and to estimate their
knowledge in a variety of domains (Everson,
Resource Management Strategies
Tobias, & Laitusis, 1997). The purpose of such
strategies is to improve self-regulation by
The resource management strategies
encouraging students to test their understanding
concern the quality and quantity of the task
(Pace, 1985, as cited in Jonassen, 1985). The
involvement (McKeachie et al., 1986). Strategies
metacognitive strategies outlined by McKeachie et
include resource management, study environment
al. (1986) are similar to those of Everson et al.
management, effort management, and support of
(1997) and include planning, monitoring, and
others (McKeachie et al., 1986).
regulating.
Resource management involves the process
Planning includes such tactics as setting
of developing well-defined goals and scheduling
goals, skimming the material, and generating
the course to obtain the best results. Scheduling is
questions (McKeachie et al., 1986). According to
the process by which the student defines a specific
Bernt and Bugbee (1990), 89% of the high passing
time or creates a daily ritual, a weekly pattern, or
students reported very frequently or almost always
some other type of arrangement (Eastmond,
skimming each chapter before reading it.
1995). In fact, Eastmond (1995) conducted a
Conversely, only 35% of the failing students and
qualitative study and determined that most
29% of the low passing students reported using
students scheduled distance education courses into
this tactic (Bernt and Bugbee, 1990).
their agenda and developed study patterns to help
them succeed. A quantitative study conducted by
Monitoring and regulating are activities
Miller (1997a) determined that students who
that utilize self-regulation (McKeachie et al.,
earned an “A” were more likely to view the
1986). Monitoring involves the process by which
videotape in a distance education course as they
learners check themselves for comprehension of
received the tape.
In this case, the students
knowledge or skills (Weinstein & Mayer, 1986).
scheduled the video tape arrival as the designated
This process of self-monitoring has been found to
time to complete the coursework.
contribute to improved acquisition, generalization,
and transfer of knowledge (Wang & Lindvall,
Study environment management is the
1984, as cited in McCombs, 1988). Examples of
development of a setting that is conducive to
this self-monitoring include self-testing, attention-
learning. According to McKeachie et al. (1986),
focus,
and employing
test-taking tactics
“the nature of the setting is as important as the fact
(McKeachie et al., 1986). Regulating involves
that the student recognizes that this particular
such processes as adjusting reading rate, re-
location is set aside for studying” (p. 29). Thus,
reading, reviewing, or utilizing test-taking tactics.
the student must designate a defined, quiet, and
The results of a study conducted by Zimmerman
organized area in which to study. In a study
and Martinez Pons (1986) on 10th grade students
conducted by Bernt and Bugbee (1990), 72-75%
indicated that self-regulated learning strategies
of students reported very frequently or almost
Journal of Agricultural Education
64
Vol. 41 Issue 1 2000

always studying in a quiet place without
(1995) confirmed the importance of the


s tudent-
interruption. However, no significant differences
instructor interaction as students contacted their

in achievement were attributed to environment. It
instructors while working through the assignments
is interesting to note that Bernt and Bugbee (1990)
for the course.
determined that high achievement students did
spend more time studying. The study by Miller
Conclusions/Recommendations
(1997a) concurred with this finding by determining
that students receiving “A’s” also did
spend
This review and synthesis of the literature
more time studying.
indicates that there is a paucity of learning strategy
research involving adult students in a distance
Effort management is the process by which
education environment. Although McKeachie et
a learner utilizes tactics such as attribution to
al. ' s (1986) taxonomy of learning strategies was
effort, mood, self-talk, persistence, and self-
developed as a macrolevel approach to learning,
reinforcement (McKeachie et al.,
1986).
only a few tactics have actually been measured in
However, these specific tactics are merely
learning strategies research.
components of a more important tactic,
motivation. Distance learners must be motivated.
In terms of specific cognitive strategies,
They are geographically isolated from the
note-taking was the only tactic found to
traditional learning environment and have accepted
distinguish between achievement levels.
responsibility for their own learning (McCombs,
Otherwise, no significant differences were found in
1988; Moore, 1989). Few studies have shown the
the literature between student achievement levels
importance ofmotivation in the distance education
based on students’ level of use of specific tactics.
environment. One study, conducted by Oxford,
Distance education students may have mastered
Park-Oh, Ito, and Sumrall (1993), determined that
most of the tactics identified by McKeachie et al.
motivation was the most significant determiner of
(1986) earlier in their educational careers and
achievement in teaching a second language using
might routinely use these tactics for learning, If
satellite television. Conversely, many motivational
so, the lack of variability in the use of cognitive
models exist for college student learning
strategies may be a plausible explanation as to why
(McKeachie et al., 1986). For example, a study
this group of tactics has thus far not been very
conducted by Sinkavich (1991) determined that
useful in discriminating
among
student
motivation was one of the factors that had a
achievement levels.
significant impact on classroom performance.
The metacognitive strategies and resource
Support of others is the final strategy
management strategies may provide adult students
associated with this taxonomy of learning
with the most promising tools to enhance their
strategies. Students must learn to utilize this
s u c c e s s i n
distance
education courses.
support by seeking help from other students and
Metacognitive
strategies include planning,
the instructor (McKeachie et al., 1986). In a study
monitoring, and self-regulation. Planning tactics
conducted by Miller (1997b), only 6.8% of the
such as skimming the material and monitoring/self-
students studied with one other person, only 4.5%
regulation strategies such as self-testing and test-
studied with a group of students, and only 18.9%
taking tactics have been utilized by high-achieving
of students called the instructor in a videotaped
students (Zimmerman & Martinez Pons, 1986;
distance education course. However, Miller
Bemt & Bugbee, 1990; Miller, 1997a; Miller,
(1997a) determined, that students who called the
1997b)
instructor were more likely to earn an “A” in the
videotaped distance education course. Eastmond
The literature indicates that several
Journal of Agricultural Education
65
Vol. 41 Issue 1 2000

resource management strategies may be useful
Dansereau, D. (1985). Learning strategy
predictors
of distance education
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assessing student use of self-regulated learning
Journal. 23(4): 614-628.
Journal Paper No. J-l 8427 of the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, Ames, Iowa.
Project No. 3265, and supported by Hatch Act and State of Iowa funds.
Journal of Agricultural Education
68
Vol. 41 Issue 1 2000

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