Evaluating the use of metaphor in online learning environments
Falconer, L. (2008) Evaluating the use of metaphor in online learning environments. Interactive Learning Environments, 16 (2). pp. 117-129. ISSN 1049-4820
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Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10494820701288626
Metaphor appears to be an innate tendency in human communication and can be shown to have significant potential when applied to the design of online learning environments. This paper describes and discusses an example of an online research methods learning resource that employs metaphoric navigation. Feedback from the tutors who design and populate the resource, and from early pilots with student users, is discussed. A particular focus for the discussion is the problem faced by sufferers of autism spectrum disorder, brain damage and other cognitive disabilities that affect the comprehension of metaphor. Research that demonstrates that autistic tendencies also exist in members of the general population is also discussed as an important consideration in learning environment design. The paper concludes that there appears to be evidence that many people in the general population have traits associated with autism spectrum disorder that are likely to affect their engagement with online learning. This variation in approaches to learning strongly suggests that one single online environment is unlikely to facilitate learning equally in all students. Currently most learning sites, and commercial and open source virtual learning environments, offer some facility for customisation of the interface, but no opportunity for students to choose from a range of environments in which to study. This paper argues that the creation of multiple learning environments which overlay the same learning content is a priority if we are to optimise the experience for the greatest number of learners, and avoid exclusion due to disability or learning preferences.