Learning style, sense of community and learning effectiveness in hybrid learning environment

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Chinese University of Hong Kong]On: 20 December 2014, At: 14:36Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Learning style, sense of communityand learning effectiveness in hybridlearning environmentBryan H. Chena & Hua-Huei Chiouaba Department of Business Education, National Changhua Universityof Education, Bao-Shan Campus, 2, Shi-Da Road, Changhua 500,Taiwanb Department of Child Care and Education, Hung Kuang University,34 Chung-Chi Rd. Sha-lu, Taichung City, 433, TaiwanPublished online: 29 May 2012.

    To cite this article: Bryan H. Chen & Hua-Huei Chiou (2014) Learning style, sense of communityand learning effectiveness in hybrid learning environment, Interactive Learning Environments, 22:4,485-496, DOI: 10.1080/10494820.2012.680971

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  • Learning style, sense of community and learning effectivenessin hybrid learning environment

    Bryan H. Chena and Hua-Huei Chioua,b*

    aDepartment of Business Education, National Changhua University of Education, Bao-ShanCampus, 2, Shi-Da Road, Changhua 500, Taiwan; bDepartment of Child Care and Education,Hung Kuang University, 34 Chung-Chi Rd. Sha-lu, Taichung City, 433, Taiwan

    (Received 1 July 2011; final version received 30 January 2012)

    The purpose of this study is to investigate how hybrid learning instruction affectsundergraduate students learning outcome, satisfaction and sense of community.The other aim of the present study is to examine the relationship betweenstudents learning style and learning conditions in mixed online and face-to-facecourses. A quasi-experimental design was used and 140 sophomores wererecruited in this study. Students learning outcomes, satisfaction, sense ofcommunity and learning styles were measured. Results showed that students in ahybrid course had significantly higher learning scores and satisfaction than didstudents of the face-to-face courses. The result also indicated that students ofhybrid learning classrooms felt a stronger sense of community than did studentsin a traditional classroom setting. Analysis of learning style indicated thatlearning style had significant effect on learning outcome in the study group.Accommodator learners had higher e-learning effectiveness than other stylelearners. Possible reasons of results were discussed.

    Keywords: e-learning; learning style; hybrid learning environment; sense ofcommunity

    Introduction

    Online learning is widely used in both higher education and industry educationaltraining (Zhu, Valcke, Schellens, & Li, 2009). Recent National Center for Education(NCES) reports in the US demonstrate that online settings, education availability,course offerings, and enrollments have been increasing rapidly among institutionsfrom K-12 to four-year universities since the 1990s (National Center for EducationStatistics, 2003). Continued growth of e-learning in the future is expected in both theacademic and industrial fields. Online learning has the potential to offer a variety-filled, rich learning environment. Online courses adjusted to the various educationaland situational needs of learners are addressed through this medium. A special valueof online learning for adult learners is a result of its convenience and flexibility(Billings, Connors, & Skiba, 2001).

    Although some studies have compared the effectiveness of online instruction totraditional face-to-face instruction, results from these studies have been inconsistent.

    *Corresponding author. Email: hhchiou@sunrise.hk.edu.tw

    2012 Taylor & Francis

    Interactive Learning Environments, 2014Vol. 22, No. 4, 485496, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10494820.2012.680971

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  • A majority of the published studies showed no difference in student performance andstudent satisfaction regardless of whether a course was taken traditionally or online.However, other research has shown advantages for online instruction or fortraditional instruction. For example, McFarland and Hamilton (2006) found thatthere was no difference in student performance and satisfaction between students inan online or in a traditional setting. Judgments regarding online learning differaccording to different findings. Zhangs (2005) study showed that the online learningstudents achieved better performance and higher levels of satisfaction than did thosein a traditional classroom. However, some other researchers presented negativeeffects of online education, including the findings that students in an online learningsetting were less satisfied (Rivera & McAlister, 2001). Opinions are divided amongscholars regarding online learning, with reports of both positive and negative learningoutcomes. Thus, more research is needed with different angles related to this topic.

    When we study the effectiveness of student learning, individual characteristicsand group climate are two critically influential factors. Research has long supportedthe notion that individual differences play an important role in learning andinstruction (Moallem, 2008). One concept in particular which has provided somevaluable insights in student differences is learning style. Many individuals prefer toperceive and process information in a particular way. Even if these teaching methodsand materials are not completely compatible with a students learning style orpersonal preference, those with motivation will continue to learn. However, ifteaching materials are customized to best fit a students learning style, the studentwill learn faster and easier. People need the feeling of connectedness to others andthe sensation of belonging to a community. Students involved in classroom learningactivities frequently feel that they are part of a group.

    Many colleges offer hybrid courses, which combine traditional face-to-face withonline instruction. The research showed that this combination has the potential ofpromoting learner-centered and active learning (Dori & Belcher, 2005). There is littleresearch that explores the experiences with hybrid learning of preschool teachers-to-be. The purpose of this research is to investigate how hybrid learning instructionaffects students learning outcomes, satisfaction and their sense of community. Theother aim of the present study is to examine the relationships among studentslearning style, learning achievement, satisfaction and sense of classroom communityin both hybrid and face-to-face courses.

    Literature review

    Learning style

    Learning style has been studied in different areas and there exist a variety ofdefinitions. Campbell and his colleague define it as a certain specified pattern ofbehavior according to which the individual approaches learning experience(Campbell, Campbell, & Dickinson, 1996). Felder and Spurlin (2005) defineslearning styles as the different ways students take in and process information, andDunn DeBello, Brennan, Krimsky, and Murrain (1981) describe learning style as away in which the individual takes in new information and develops new skills. FromInformation Processing perspective, Kolb (1985) defines learning style as theprocess by which the individual retains new information or new skill.

    Kolbs learning style model has been cited frequently by other studies or servedas a starting point for experientially based learning styles, including models by

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  • Allinson and Hayes (1996) and Honey and Mumford (2000). Kolbs learning styletool was used in 1004 studies in varying fields, including: education, management,computer studies, psychology, and medicine (Coffield, Moseley, Hall, & Ecclestone,2004). An important belief in Kolbs theory is that learning styles are not fixedpersonality traits but rather ones adaptive orientation to learning. In Kolbs words(2000), a learning style is a differential preference for learning, which changesslightly from situation to situation (Kolb, 2000, p. 8). This opinion of the flexiblenature of learning is attractive for researchers because it represents the possibleinfluences of self adjustment and instructional design.

    Kolb divided the learning process cycle into four learning modes in terms ofinformation processing by learners: concrete experience (CE), reflective observation(RO), abstract conceptualization (AC), and active experimentation (AE). Testparticipants will have a preset score of learning style inventory (LSI) in each of thefour learning modes. Through a graphic profile plotted on the model, learners may beidentified according to one of the following four styles: diverger, assimilator, conver-ger, and accommodator (see Figure 1). The divergers combine the preference of CEand RO. This strength in independence and creativity in thought or action has beenidentified as a useful skill in generating new ideas such as in brainstorming sessions.The assimilators prefer a combination of RO and AC. They prefer to understand asituation from a theoretical or conceptual standpoint without consideration ofspecific examples related to it. Individuals favoring this style have been namedplanners due to their strength in creating theoretical models. The convergers arecombinations of AC and AE. They prefer to understand a situation from thetheoretical or conceptual perspectives without considering related examples. Theytend to use hypothetical-deductive strategies to solve problems and prefer to deal withthings rather than people. Accommodators prefer a combination of CE and AE. Theyprefer to understand a situation from concrete senses. This style of learner likes to relyon information provided by others rather than those from their own analysis.

    Different students use different ways to deal with information they receive.Individuals with diverging learning style are good for their strength in imaginative

    Figure 1. Kolb learning style model (Kolb & Kolb, 2005).

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  • abilities. Diverging style learners are interested in people and cultures. Individualswith assimilating learning style prefer to understand situations from a theoretical orconceptual standpoint. They like to be observers than be actors. Assimilating stylelearners have strength in applying ideas in a practical way. They tended to specializein technical and applied sciences. Learners with accommodating learning style,action is preferred over observation in the process of transforming experience intoknowledge. Their natural orientation towards involve in experiences (Kolb, 2000).These individuals much more disposed to taking risks than any of the other threestyles. Some students learn best by watching and listening, some learn better byreading and others by doing (i.e. in a hands-on environment). Thus, it is importantto consider students learning styles while arranging a course, whether in traditionalor online settings. Students filter learning material through a set of individual lenses.Students academic achievements were affected by their styles of learning andthinking. Previous research suggests that learners tend to retain information longerwhen their learning styles match with instructional style (Zhang, 2002).

    Past research reports show inconsistent results regarding which learning stylelearner performs better with e-learning. Chou and Wang (2000) studied senior highschool student e-learning effects and discovered that accommodators and convergers(AE learning style) have higher e-learning effectiveness, and that their e-learningmethods and learning styles have a significant interaction. The study ofGunawardena and Boverie (1993) shows that learning style does not influencehow students interact with media and methods of instruction; however, accom-modators were the most satisfied and diverger subjects were the least satisfied withclass activities. The relationship between the four kinds of learners and their learningeffectiveness still needs further investigative research.

    Sense of classroom community

    Education is based on communication between instructors and students as well as onpeer group interaction. These interactions built the spirit and atmosphere in thecourse. While researchers consider the different characteristics of learning, the feelingof classroom community is another critical issue. Sense of classroom communityrefers to the feeling of belonging, trust and commitment in the interaction betweenand among students (Ni & Aust, 2008, p. 481). Rovai and Lucking (2000) definedthe sense of classroom community as a feeling members have of belonging, a feelingthat members matter to one another and to the group, that they have duties andobligations to each other and to the school, and that they possess sharedexpectations that members educational needs will be met through their commitmentto shared goals. Studies demonstrate that students sense of classroom communityinfluences their perceived cognitive learning (Rovai, 2002) and assisted learning ifthey believe that they belong to the community or group (Wighting, 2006).

    Rovai (2002) reviewed related research and defines classroom community asconsisting of two components: feelings of connectedness among communitymembers and commonality of learning expectations and goals. Connectedness isthe feeling that one person is connected with other group members. It is related tothe quality of interpersonal relationships and was labeled as caring (Grant, 1988).Once learners see themselves as a part of group, they feel trust and comfort in thecommunity. Students with feelings of connectedness are willing to involve themselvesin group activities such as learning activities. The second component of classroom

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  • community is learning. It means that knowledge is constructed, or understandingenhanced, within the community. In order for a classroom community to flourish,students have to accept and participate in the learning process; consequently,learning is the goal for classroom community.

    Most of the online courses use text-based asynchronous communication methods;Holmbergs Guided Didactic Conversation theory explains that there are two typesof conversations in the online course: the real conversation and the simulatedconversation (Holmberg, 1995). Real conversation involves communication bytelephone, personal contact, etc. Simulated conversation is achieved by internalizedconversation in a text and the conversational style of course authors. Holmbergbelieves that learning occurs if dialogue is engaged in by students even in the onlinecourse. Holmberg also indicates that atmosphere, language, and friendly conversa-tion favor feelings of a personal relationship that are important for students learningmotivation. In summary, a participants feeling of belonging is likely to have a majorimpact on learning outcome and satisfaction, whether in traditional or online courses.

    Samples in the present study were preschool teachers-to-be in the online and face-to-face courses. Researchers were trying to explore how different instructions affectstudents sense of community and learning effectiveness, including final examinationscore and learning satisfaction. The other purpose of this study is to examine therelationship among students learning style, achievement, satisfaction and sense ofclassroom community in the two instructional settings. Accordingly, the followingresearch hypotheses are investigated:

    Hypothesis 1: There is no difference in students learning outcomes between the twoprograms

    Hypothesis 2: There is no difference in students learning satisfaction between the twoprograms

    Hypothesis 3: There is no difference in students sense of community between the twoprograms

    Hypothesis 4: Students learning styles have no effect on learning outcomes

    Hypothesis 5: Students learning styles have no effect on learning satisfaction

    Hypothesis 6: Students learning styles have no effect on sense of community

    Hypothesis 7: Students demographic variables have no effect on learning satisfaction orsense of community

    Research method

    Participants

    A quasi-experimental design was used in this study. The sample for the study wastaken from four sophomore classes that were enrolled in the course: Evaluation ofChild Development, in the fall semester 2009. All students were enrolled in theDepartment of Child Care and Education of University in central Taiwan. Studentshave to pass a Child Development course in the first grade before they take theEvaluation of Child Development course.

    Teachers used hybrid curriculum design in the study group and the control groupwas a traditional face to face design. Two classes were randomly chosen as the studygroup (n 82) and another two classes were chosen as the control group (n 64) atthe beginning of semester.

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  • To assess competence in regard to the curriculum, students completed a test onchild development, designed by a child development teacher prior to the semestersinstruction. The results of this pretest indicated that the different ability levels werenot statistically significant (t 0.194, p 0.846).

    Since five students dropped out during the semester, 81 students in the studygroup and 59 students in the control group participated in this study. The studentshad a mean age of 20.24 years and SD 1.58 years, with a range from 19 to 31 years.All of the students in this course were females.

    Measurements

    (1) Learning style inventory (LSI): learning style was assessed using the Kolb(1985, 2007) LSI, which is a 12-item self-report questionnaire. Respondentswere required to rank four sentence endings corresponding to each of thefour learning styles for each of the items.Learning style inventory (LSI) represents a four-point Likert type scale andis a valid tool for construct validation widely used by many studies. Inaddition, Smith and Kolb (1986) reported that the reliability for LSI version2 (N 268) was AC 0.83, CE 0.82, AE 0.78, and RO 0.73, respec-tively. To measure learner learning styles, this research used a Chineseversion of LSI, which was translated from LSI.

    When students were tested with the LSI, they received a score in each of thefour learningmodes: CE, RO, AC, and AE. Through a graphic profile plottedon the learning-style type grid, learners may be identified as one of thefollowing four styles: diverger, assimilator, converger, and accommodator.

    (2) Learning outcome: the final examination score was counted as the learningoutcome.

    (3) Learning satisfaction questionnaire: learning satisfaction was assessed using aquestionnaire which was a modified form of Tangs (2006) research of studentsrating of instruction. Themodified questionnaire was a 20-item scale employinga five-point Likert type scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).

    Validity of scale was calculated using principal component analysis and fourfactors were extracted. The researcher defined factors such as teaching skill,instruction material, instruction evaluation and teaching attitude. Four factorsaccounted for 16.98, 16.63, 15.09, and 14.51% of the item variance, andrepresenting a total of 63.21% of the data. Reliability was calculated by internalconsistency estimates which were calculated for four subscales. Cronbachscoefficient awas 0.86 for the teaching skill subscale, 0.82 for instruction subscale,0.84 for instruction evaluation subscale and 0.73 for teaching attitude subscale.

    (4) Sense of classroom community scale: sense of classroom community wasmeasured using Rovais classroom community scale (CCS) (Rovai, 2002).This 20-item scale employed a five-point Likert type scale ranging from 1(strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Ten items of the 20 questions werereverse-coded in data analysis.

    Scale validity was analyzed using factor analysis method. Two factors were extractedand the result was similar to that of Rovais study (2002). Rovais two defined factorswere connectedness item and learning item. The result showed that the

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  • connectedness factor accounted for 42.81% of the item variance and the learningfactor accounted for 11.24% of the item variance. Reliability was calculated byinternal consistency; estimates were calculated for each of the two subscales.Cronbachs coefficient a for the connectedness subscale was 0.92 and was 0.87 for thelearning subscale. Overall, Cranachs coefficient a was 0.93 for the entire CCS.

    Procedure

    Students in both conditions received identical instruction topics during the regularlyscheduled instructional period for 100 min, once a week, through a whole semester ofclasses. Lessons in both conditions were taught by the same teacher.

    None of the participants in the study group had previous online learningexperience. Thus, system training was given at the beginning of the semester. Theresearcher gave a brief live demonstration to the students on the use of the e-learningsystem. Students were also given an opportunity to familiarize themselves with thesystem. No participant reported any difficulty with the system.

    The e-learning system provides services such as: material posting, the ability tohand in assignments, fill out questionnaires and participate in online discussions.Teacherstudent or peer group interactions are allowed to be processed in the e-learning platform.

    In the first of eight weeks of instruction, teachers gave lectures to students of twogroups in face-to-face classes. From the 10th week, students began to work for finalassignment. All groups were asked to hand in weekly progress reports. In the studygroup, all discussions were held in the e-learning platform. Students used e-learningplatform to share information resources and discuss ideas. Discussion process wasrecorded automatically by system. Students could also reflect on what each memberhad already completed and plan for the next week. Their progress reports were postedon the bulletin in e-learning system. In the control group, students had face-to-facemeeting for their final assignment. They had to record ideas and discussion conclusionby writing and weekly progress reports were hand in by hard copy. Occasionally, theteacher visited each group to check what was going on and gave encouragement.Students had a final assignment presentation at the end of the semester.

    All curriculum materials of teaching in the first eight weeks were uploaded in thee-learning system for the study group students. The e-learning system was open allday. On the other hand, all of the curriculum materials such as teaching liverecording of course and teachers powerpoints were made into CD-ROM format andwere prepared for students in the control group. Students were able to borrow theCD-ROMs if they needed.

    All students took the prior knowledge test in the second week and filled out a LSIin the third week. Learning satisfaction questionnaires and CCSs were filled out oneweek before the end of semester. All students had to attend the final examinationduring the last course.

    Results

    Hypothesis 1: There is no difference in students learning outcomes between the twoprograms

    The first hypothesis was rejected in this study. The researcher used the t-test fordata analysis and found that there was a significant difference of students learning

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  • outcomes between the study group and control group (t 8.59, p 0.000). The meanof final examination score in the study group (M 81.37) was higher than thecontrol group (M 68.90). Table 1 presents the results of the difference analysis.

    Hypothesis 2: There is no difference in students learning satisfaction between the twoprograms

    The second hypothesis was rejected in this study. A t-test was conducted toexplore the relationships between the students learning satisfaction between thestudy group, and the control group. The results showed that significant differencesexisted between the two classroom environments (t 2.49, p 0.014). Students in thehybrid learning setting (M 85.13) had higher levels of satisfaction than those in thetraditional classroom (M 81.62). Table 2 summarizes the results of this analysis.

    Hypothesis 3: There is no difference in students sense of community between the twoprograms

    The third hypothesis was rejected by the findings of the present study. Another t-test was conducted to explore the relationships between students sense ofcommunity between the study group and the control group. Table 3 shows thesummary of the analysis. The result indicates that students from the hybrid learningclassroom felt a stronger sense of community (M 75.26) than the students of thetraditional classroom (M 71.17). The difference between two groups wassignificant (t 2.23, p 0.027).

    Hypothesis 4: Students learning styles have no effect on learning score

    The fourth hypothesis was partially supported by the findings of the present study.The mean of the learning progress was calculated by the difference between final

    Table 1. t-test for learning outcomes between two groups.

    N Mean SD t p

    Study group 81 81.37 9.88 8.59 0.000Control group 59 68.90 8.32

    Table 2. t-test for learning satisfaction between two groups.

    N Mean SD t p

    Study group 81 85.13 7.94 2.49 0.014Control group 59 81.62 9.32

    Table 3. t-test for learning satisfaction between two groups.

    N Mean SD t p

    Study group 81 75.26 8.01 2.23 0.027Control group 59 71.17 9.08

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  • exam scores and pretest scores. A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) wasconducted to evaluate the effects of students learning style on the degree of progressin the two classroom settings. Analysis results indicated that learning style hadsignificant effect on learning outcome in the study group (F 14.98, p 0.000) butno significance was found in the control group (F 0.939, p 0.428) (see Table 4).

    Hypothesis 5: Students learning styles have no effect on learning satisfaction

    The fifth hypothesis was supported by the finding of this study. The resultshowed that learning styles have no influence on the study group (F 0.159,p 0.924) or control group (F 0.604, p 0.615).

    Hypothesis 6: Students learning styles have no effect on sense of community

    The sixth hypothesis was supported by the finding of this study. The resultshowed that learning styles have no influence on the study group (F 0.541,p 0.656) or control group (F 0.731, p 0.538).

    Hypothesis 7: Students demographic variables have no effect on learning satisfactionand sense of community

    The seventh hypothesis was supported by the findings of the present study. Tworegression analyses were conducted to explore the relationships of students age,work experience, learning satisfaction and sense of community. The result of oneregression model showed that neither age nor working experience were significantpredictors for learning satisfaction in the study group (F 0.301, p 0.741) and thecontrol group (F 2.548, p 0.087). Another analysis found that age and workingexperience were not significant predictors for sense of community in the study group(F 0.059, p 0.943) and control group (F 1.723, p 0.188).

    Discussion

    This research compared students learning effectiveness, including learning achieve-ment, satisfaction and sense of community, in two kinds of instructional settings. Inaddition, this paper also presented the relationship between students learning stylesand learning effectiveness. Results found that students in hybrid course hadsignificantly higher learning scores and satisfaction than did students of the face-to-face courses. Possible reasons for these results were that online learning provided aconvenience use and enhanced students learning motivation. Learning theory

    Table 4. ANOVA analysis for predicting mean of learning progress score from learning style.

    Study group Control group

    Learning style N Mean F P N Mean F P

    Accommodator 32 9.22 14.98 0.000 19 3.68 0.939 0.428Converger 11 7.73 9 5.00Assimilator 9 5.00 10 3.50Diverger 29 4.17 21 2.86

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  • suggests that learning is promoted when students are actively involved in the learningor when reflective thinking is promoted through applied and activities (Driscoll &Carliner, 2002). In the study group, students can review course material any time andany where if they wanted. According to e-learning system record, cumulativenumbers of log in for curriculum review are almost 10 times for CD borrowing.Suggesting the use of technology has made learning more convenient and affordable.

    The result of the present study indicated that students of hybrid learningclassrooms felt a stronger sense of community than did students in a traditionalclassroom setting. A classroom community can be viewed as a social community oflearners who share knowledge, values, and goals. Members communities are weak ifthey have little interaction, mistrust or competition relations (Rovai, 2002). Studentsreported that they often spend more time in online discussion than teacher requested.Through voice communication, students could express their own ideas and involveweekly progress writing. Furthermore, they could connect with each other underthese alternative of communication based on equal opportunities.

    Two ways of writing progress reports were found in the control group. One wasthat group members write their own progress reports individually. Students showedwhat they individually did in the last week and each of them was going to do in thenext week. More than half groups wrote progress reports in this way. The other waywas that group members wrote reports as a group. Compared to the second method,the first method spends less time, obviously. However, lower degree of integrationmay affect sense of group community.

    Analysis of learning style indicated that learning style had significant effect onlearning outcome in the study group. Accommodators performed best in the hybridlearning instruction. This result was consistent with Ford and Chens (2000)research. The result also found that accommodator learners had higher e-learningeffectiveness. Such learners preferred to rely heavily on information provided byothers and deal with things by themselves. Lots of material on e-learning platformsprobably fit their learning preference. In sum, learning styles could be considered avalid predictor of success in a Web-based learning environment. However, e-learningdesign seemed not to be a benefit for some students if they were divergers orassimilators. Teachers might offer more examples with better illustration anddetailed explanation to these two kinds of students (Kinshuk, Liu, & Graf, 2009). Itmight fit divergers and assimilators needs and help with their learning. Theunderstanding of the relationship between specific learning styles and learningeffectiveness could be used in online adaptive version learning system managementor in traditional curriculum design.

    Future study can further investigate and consider more detailed variables relatedto students behaviors between different instructional settings and different learningstyle preferences. The work will provide information on instruction arrangement.

    Acknowledgements

    The authors thank all students who participated in this study. They also thank the reviewersfor their comments.

    Notes on contributors

    Bryan H. Chen is a professor in the Department of Business Education, at the NationalChanghua University of Education, Taiwan.

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  • Hua-Huei Chiou is an assistant professor in the Department of Child Care and Education atHung Kuang University, Taiwan. Chiou is also a doctoral student in the Department ofBusiness Education at the National Changhua University of Education.

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