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How Do You Like To Learn?
Comparing User Preferences and Visit Length of Educational Web Sites

David T. Schaller and Steven Allison-Bunnell, Educational Web Adventures
Minda Borun and Margaret B. Chambers, Museum Solutions

Presented at Museums and the Web 2002


Developing effective public education sites for the World Wide Web requires an understanding of both learning theory and what appeals to learners. A recent study commissioned by IBM found that Web learners prefer passive entertainment experiences to more demanding interactive experiences (Karat et al, 2001). If people learn best in active modes, but prefer passive Web experiences, how can we develop sound educational activities that attract and appeal to a broad audience?

This paper reports results of a study designed to determine people's preferences for different types of Web-based educational activity. The primary research question was: How do people's preferences vary among types of Web-based learning activity? We identified six activity types for comparison: Creative Play, Guided Tour, Interactive Reference, Puzzle/Interactive Mystery, Role-playing Story, and Simulation.

A team of Web developers who work with museums and other learning sites collaborated with a team of educational researchers who work primarily with museums to conduct a survey of visitors to five different types of educational Web site. Two kinds of data were collected:

  • User exit surveys, eliciting an evaluation of the study site and preferred genre or type of learning activity.
  • Server statistics indicating the duration of stay.

Results indicate that there are clear differences in the type of Web-based learning activity preferred by adults and children. Adults are more likely to select Interactive Reference or Simulation whereas children prefer Creative Play and Role-playing Stories. The adult sites yield more straightforward cognitive information while the sites preferred by children allow more personal choice and interaction. Apparently, adults bring an intrinsic motivation to the learning experience. They know what they want to learn and they want to learn it in the most direct way. Children, on the other hand, need to be motivated. They respond positively to the opportunity for interaction and choice within a goal-based environment that offers them an extrinsic purpose.

Keywords: learning preferences, learning theory, Web-based education, goal-based scenario, intrinsic motivation.

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