Learning styles and online participation of practicing teachers in an online support group : a mixed method study of the influence of learning styles on online participation, conceptual change, and perceptions of problem solving and support
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT REQUEST OF AUTHOR.] The purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship between learning styles, as measured by Kolb's Learning Style Inventory (LSI) and online interactions, and how they influence conceptual change and perception of online problem solving and support in an online support group for practicing teachers. The purpose of this online professional development group is support and shared problem solving among practicing teachers, and learning is only a part of engagement in support group and sharing. Both quantitative data (e.g. number of hits, number of posted messages & number of weeks participated) and qualitative data (e.g. online discussion transcripts and interviews) were collected and analyzed to answer the research question in this study. Results of this study reveal that there are no statistically significant differences between participants' learning styles, their online participation, and their conceptual changes. Participants with less knowledge about special education before receiving case-based training had higher participation rates in this online support group during the first semester, but there were no differences in terms of participation rates during the second semester. In addition, participants with higher levels of conceptual change after receiving case-based training had higher contribution rates during the first semester of the online support group, but no difference was found between participation rates and knowledge levels during the second semester. Results from qualitative analysis show that differences are found between interaction patterns and participants with different learning styles. When interacting with other online colleagues in this online support group, divergers were sensitive to others' feelings; assimilators were reflective, convergers analytically responded to their online colleagues, and the accommodator was pragmatic in online postings. From participants' interviews, all participants stated they benefited from the online support group through the iterative process of information sharing and change. Divergers stated reasons as being supported, building a social network, and problem solving with online colleagues. Assimilators gave reasons as building social interpersonal relationships and gaining multiple perspectives. The benefits for convergers included obtaining multiple perspectives, problem solving, and collaboration with online colleagues. The benefits for the accommodator related to the opportunity to have a real case discussion with everyone having the same contextual understanding. Implications of the results of this study are discussed, and recommendations for instructors in teaching online courses are also suggested. In addition, the limitation and further research directions are also provided.
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