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Interactive Technology for Enhancing

Distributed Learning: A Study on Weblogs

Andreas Holzinger Michael D. Kickmeier-Rust Martin Ebner
Research Unit HCI4MED Department of Psychology WG Social Learning
Medical University Graz University of Graz Graz University of Technology
Auenbruggerplatz 2/V Universitaetsplatz 2/III Steyrergasse 30
A-8036 Graz, Austria A-8010 Graz, Austria A-8010 Graz, Austria
+43-316-385-3883 +43-316-873-9554 +43-316-873-8540
a.holzinger@ michael.kickmeier@ martin.ebner@

In this study, it was investigated whether, and to what extent,
Research on new media in educational settings is an extremely
Web 2.0 technologies, actually Weblogs, can be a suitable
broad area: emerging technologies enter education quickly and
instrument for enhancing the practice of distributed learning. In
often find application well beyond their original intention [3],
educational settings, which are based on traditional lectures
[9], [12]. There is a increase in educational technologies and
many students begin serious study shortly before the exam.
the influence of these new technologies is relatively high,
However, from previous empirical research, it is known that the
however, we must never forget that learning is both a basic
practice of distributed learning is much more conducive to
cognitive and social process, and that education cannot be
retaining knowledge than that of massed learning. A 22
replaced by technology [12]. Previous research in new media
factorial design (within – repeated measures) with pre-test and
provided inconsistent and sometimes even contradictory results
post-test in a real life setting was applied; the study lasted for
on effects of different types of media and their learning
the whole summer term 2007. Participants were N=28
performance [10], [11].
computer science undergraduates of Graz University of
Technology. We randomly assigned them to two groups of For example, in recent years, Web 2.0 technologies and social
equal size: The experimental group given the Weblog treatment software have increasingly influenced the educational practice
are referred to as Group W; whereas the control group with no in schools and universities [8], [13]. Especially Weblogs can be
access are referred to as Group C. Students of group W were used to support education by encouraging reflective practice
instructed to use the Weblog for developing their paper and [2], [3] and enabling student-centred approaches [15].
studying during the lecture and they were requested not to However, empirical research is only sparsely focussed on the
reveal their group affiliation. The results showed that measurable success of such Weblogs [7] and research in real-
performance scores of group W were significantly higher than life settings is missing.
that of group C. This demonstrates that Weblogs can be an Consequently, our central question within the present work is
appropriate instrument to supplement a classical lecture in whether Weblogs can contribute towards addressing, and
order to enable deeper processing of information over a longer possibly overcoming the well-known and common problem of
period of time, consequently resulting in enhanced learning student learning strategies, that is, massed (or crammed)
performance. learning. In typical educational settings, where a longer period
of teaching is completed with some kind of test or exam (e.g.,
Categories and Subject Descriptors traditional classroom lectures), we frequently observed that
K3.1. [Computer Use in Education]: Collaborative learning, students start serious learning rather shortly before the exam;
Computer-managed instruction (CMI) this may be a week, maybe days, or even hours. During this
final period students learn literally day and night and,
amazingly, they can acquire a substantial amount of
General Terms information, which at least suffices to pass the exam. Such
Experimentation, Human Factors, Theory
learning strategies are, from both a psycho-pedagogical and
educational perspective, problematic. A large body of research
Keywords yielded that the efficiency and, above all, retention over a
Web 2.0., Weblogs, Distributed Learning, Massed Learning, longer period of time is significantly impaired by such learning
Learning Performance. behaviour [17], [18], [5], [16].

Learning and practising strategies, preferences, or styles can be
defined and characterized in a variety of ways, taxonomies, and
© The Author 2009. classifications. Probably one of the most simple, yet important
Published by the British Computer Society classifications refers to the temporal intensity of learning, that
is, the classification in massed versus distributed learning (or
practising). For example, based on a thorough analysis of the
literature, Lee and Genovese [14] defined those concepts in
terms of pauses between learning and practising trials.

HCI 2009 – People and Computers XXIII – Celebrating people and technology 309
A. Holzinger et al.

Consequently, massed learning refers to a behaviour wherein Basically, after the first successful logon, a Weblog is provided
the learners attempt to acquire as much knowledge or as many to each single user where data entries can be made. In addition
skills as possible within a limited period of time and literally to text entries, any multimedia content can be published online.
without any intermittent pauses. In turn, the concept of The platform allows the creation of communities for a specific
distributed learning refers to the learning strategy of allocating topic. Students and teachers attending such a community (so
learning trials over a larger time interval, including prolonged called members) are allowed to blog within the community
breaks and rests. Essentially, results of previous research blog and exchange their opinions (co-operative blogging).
indicate that distributed learning is superior to massed learning
(see e.g., [14], [4]). 3.2 Experimental Setting
Baddeley [1], for example, conducted a study, teaching a large We carried out a longitudinal study over a complete semester in
number of postmen to type. The results indicate that one hour the real-life setting of a typical lecture: “Applied Human–
learning sessions on a daily basis reduced the number of Computer Interaction” (TUG LV 706.046), held by the first
necessary training hours and enabled the participants to author. The study started on 26th February 2007 and ended on
increase typing performance more rapidly than massed learning 25th June 2007.
sessions. A more recent study by Childers and Tomasello [6] During recent years, it was interesting to observe that students
with a different user group summarizes the gist of the matter. did not do most of their work continually during the lectures, as
However, the amount of content that can be learned in a massed recommended by previous learning research, but – as could be
way is amazing and when comparing the learning performance observed in other lectures as well – at the very end, shortly
of massed learning and distributed learning right after learning before the deadline; where they then worked night and day.
sessions, it is probable that the performance will be more or less This was the motivation for checking the hypothesis: when we
identical; however, when comparing retention after a longer provide a weblog for one group, and require them to contribute
period of time, distributed learning results in substantially to this weblog continually during the whole semester, and tell
better performance, most of all in a deeper understanding. Of them that this is of equal worth as the traditional paper writing,
course, the effects of massed versus distributed learning are this will encourage continuous learning.
moderated by diverse further variables, for example the type of
learning (cognitive versus motor skills), the complexity of the 3.3 Participants
learning material, or meaningfulness of the content. A total of 28 students participated: 4 females and 24 males. The
average age was 24 years (SD = 1.33), the youngest participant
3. METHODS AND MATERIALS was 22, the oldest 27. All participants were undergraduate
computer science students and therefore familiar with Web 2.0
3.1 The Weblog used technology in general, and Weblogs in particular.
Since 2006, Graz University of Technology (approximately ten
thousand students) is using a social networking environment [8] 3.4 Procedure
based on the open source product ELGG ( A so- The students were randomly assigned to one of two equally
called Blog Sphere was installed and adapted according the sized groups, an experimental group (group W), who were
requirements of the university. Students and teachers are able to required to use their personal Weblog related to the lecture and
establish digital identities and connect to each other, the subject matter during the semester. In the control group
collaborate with them and discover new resources through their (group C), students were not affected by the study and could
connections. Figure 1 shows the community blog of the lecture. perform regularly. The students of group W were instructed not
The layout can be recognised by blog users as fairly standard, to communicate the Weblog usage to group C. Internal logging
with a typical student contribution on the left side, while search data showed that all students used the Weblog to some degree.
possibilities and links to the weblog and bookmarks are on the
right side – together with a list of the members. The original At the beginning of the semester all students were provided
development of the ELGG was initiated in 2004 by Ben with the general learning and study strategy inventory (LASSI,
Werdmuller and Dave Tosh. It has a strongly educational [19]), which is a questionnaire with ten sub-scales that assesses
background and fulfills most requirements of universities, specific learning and study strategies, predominantly focussing
schools, and scientific institutes. on meta-skills. In addition, a basic learning styles inventory in
the German language (HALB test) was presented at the
beginning of the semester. To assess the student’s prior
knowledge, a knowledge test scale was conducted, including
ten dichotomous items, eight multiple-choice items, and three
Likert scales. To assess learning performance during the
semester, a written exam was conducted at the end of the
semester. The exam required the students to write and present a
paper about a specific topic. The exam consisted of 20
correct/incorrect judgements, 20 multiple-choice questions, five
free-answer items, and three problem solving tasks. The written
paper made 70% of the grading, the writing exam 30%.


The main focus of this paper is whether learning performance
increases with a more distributed learning strategy by using (or
being required to use) Weblogs in comparison to regular
Figure 1. TU Graz Learnland – Community Weblog strategies. In order to ensure a clean distribution, the control
group were monitored in the classroom to avoid any social

HCI 2009 – People and Computers XXIII – Celebrating people and technology 310
Interactive Technology for Enhancing Distributed Learning: A Study on Weblogs

networking and requested to limit their learning activities to the

tools provided.
For the statistical analysis, we rely on two knowledge tests,
which were of course identical in the pre-test and the post-test;
first a ten item dichotomy (yes/no) judgment test (T1) and
second, an eight item multiple choice knowledge test (T2).
Each of the multiple choice items had four alternatives, where
at each item none, one, or more of the alternatives could be
correct, to decrease the probability of guessing.
As expected, no differences in the test scores were found in the
pre-tests at the beginning of the semester. In group W the mean
score was 2.31 (SD = 1.11) for test T1 and 0.92 (SD = 1.44) for
test T2. Similarly, in group C the mean score was 2.77 (SD =
1.01) for test T1 and 1.15 (SD = 1.95) for test T2 (Figure 2). A
normal distribution test (Kolmogorow-Smirnov) proved the
normal distribution of the data. Subsequently, an analysis of
variance (ANOVA) revealed non-significant differences
between both groups for T1 (F(1, 24) = 1.227, p = .279) and T2
(F(1, 24) = .118, p = .735). At the end of the semester, a clear Figure 3. Learning performance for both groups (W, C)
divergence of results between the experimental group and the and both tests (T1, T2)
control group could be seen. In the Weblog group W the mean
score was 14.31 (SD = 2.14) for T1 and 15.23 (SD = 4.15) for In addition, we asked the students for their opinion about the
T2. In the control group C the mean score was 12.33 (SD = quality of existing learning material in the field of the lecture
2.67) for T1 and 12.08 (SD = 4.19) for T2 (Figure 2). (i.e., applied human-computer interaction). The average quality
rating on a percentage scale (where 100% means best quality)
was 73.92 (SD = 13.89), which is a quite good judgment.
Moreover, we asked the students whether they thought that
multimedia material is more beneficial for learning than simple
textbook lessons.
The average rating, again on a percentage scale, was 58.92 (SD
= 18.80), which is a medium value, yet quite alarming for
educational designers. Overall, the judgments in these questions
did not influence the participants’ learning performance; we
found no correlations (Pearson correlation) with learning
performance in T1 (-0.16) and T2 (0.28).

The presented work supported our hypothesis (section 3.2.) in
that the use of Weblogs does facilitate and stimulate a more
distributed learning behaviour.
This result provides an indication that Weblogs can be an
appropriate instrument to improve learning performance by
supplementing traditional lecturing.

Figure 2. Test scores for both groups (W, C) and both tests The students who were required to use Weblogs during the
(T1, T2) at the beginning and the end of the semester. semester did perform significantly better than the students who
relied on their usual learning strategy.
However, at the moment it is unclear whether this result is due
For further analyses, we used the learning performance, which to effects of a more distributed learning or whether publishing
was computed as the difference between post-test and pre-test and discussing in Weblogs facilitates a deeper learning.
scores. In group W the mean learning performance was 12.00
(SD = 2.16) for T1 and 14.31 (SD = 3.71) for T2. In group C
the mean learning performance was 9.38 (SD = 2.87) for T1
In future work, we will extend the analyses, particularly with
and 10.46 (SD = 2.83) for T2.
respect to the effects of learning styles and learning strategies.
For both blocks of items, group W yielded a higher learning A promising and important focus will be the students’
performance (Figure 3). An ANOVA revealed on the 5%-level behaviour and the effects of regular pauses, social networking
significant differences between the experimental group and the and the distribution of the learning over longer periods. In
control group for both tests (T1: F(1, 24) = 6.881, p = .015; T2: addition, future analysis will investigate specific effects on long
F(1, 24) = 5.917, p = .023). term retention.

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