Are the Information Technologies the New Discrimination Tools? Results From a Study on Learning, Satisfaction and Technology


Pedro Calderia
Universidade do Algarve


The use of technology in educational settings is largely non-theoretical regarding to education theories and models, to educational psychology (namely individual differences on learning and information processing styles) and to didactics (in general, or science and literature, for instance).

The introduction of computers in schools and classes is almost totally dependent on teachers’ technological knowledge and interest, without regard to the consequences on learning performance of subjects with different study approaches and orientations, different learning conceptualizations and outcomes.

Therefore, the main goal of this study is to understand the impact of hypermedia information presentation on surface and deep learning and on satisfaction in subjects with different study orientations.

Three subject groups were selected. Each subject was classified within a contrasting study orientation (to the meaning, to reproduction and disorganized study orientations) and studied one of the three different versions of the same information (three versions on computer: sequential without image, sequential with image and non-sequential with image – the last one is an hypermedia version). After studying the information, subject’s performance was evaluated regarding surface and deep learning and satisfaction.

This study analyses the combined effect of three different constructs and three information presentation systems on surface and deep learning and on satisfaction. These constructs are the following:

  • Study orientation – referring to subjects’ elected studying orientation. Each study orientation is associated with different learning conceptualizations and outcomes:
  • Meaning study orientation is associated with high learning outcomes and a conceptualization of learning as to obtain the deep understanding of school materials;
  • Reproduction study orientation is associated with learning outcomes average and a conceptualization of learning as a mere accumulation of knowledge;
  • Disorganized study orientation is associated with poor learning outcomes and a conceptualization of learning as a dull and uninteresting task;
  • Dynamics information – referring to the absence or presence of images on the presentation version of information;
  • Sequence of the information presentation – referring to the sequential or non-linear structure of the information presentation.

Kintsh and van Dijk (1978) comprehension of texts model, and their evolutions (namely Kintsh & Kintsh, 1996) was used to analyses the impact of these constructs on surface and deep learning. Several satisfaction dimensions were used to analyses the impact of the same constructs on satisfaction. Surface and deep learning and satisfaction were operational in the following way:

  • Surface learning was evaluated by dichotomous and multiple choice questions;
  • Deep learning was evaluated by open questions;
  • A 5-item scale evaluated satisfaction.

189 subjects have participated in this study. They were assigned to one of the different study orientation and information presentation system groups. Group comparisons were made using either Analysis of Variance or Kruskal-Wallis non-parametric test (Post-hoc tests, Least Square Differences or Mann-Whitney, respectively).

The main hypothesis in this study were that: dynamic and non linearity information have a negative impact on surface and deep learning and provide higher levels of satisfaction on subjects with a disorganized study orientation. Both information characteristics have also a negative impact on deep learning on subjects with a reproducing study orientation and provide lower levels of satisfaction on subjects with a meaning study orientation.

Globally, the main hypotheses of this study were confirmed. The dynamics and sequence of information have a paradoxical effect on subjects with a disorganized study orientation. For these subjects, more the information presentation is dynamic and non-linear, more interesting the information becomes (providing higher levels of satisfaction) but also more negatively it interferes on performance in both surface and deep learning.

Learning conceptualizations of subjects with a disorganized study orientation (as entertainment without effort, for instance) probably hinder them to understand the information. Moreover the distracting effect of information dynamics and structure restrained the process of superficial and deep learning.

On the other hand, subjects with a meaning orientation feel less satisfied when interacting with hypermedia information, comparatively with sequential information of all types (with or without images).

Learning conceptualizations of these subjects (relating ideas, for instance) probably allow them to understand that to reach the same results level demanded more effort when studying with the aid of information presentation systems more dynamic and non-linear (hypermedia)

An unexpected result in this study was the impact of the information segmentation on deep learning results in all subject groups. A higher level of segmentation seems to facilitate surface learning for all study orientation groups. However, the excess of segmentation hinders deep learning results as it blocks the process of meaning construction.

The main conclusion of this study is that the students with higher difficulties in studying and learning school materials (students with a disorganized study orientation – with a learning conceptualization as a dull task, without interest) are completely defeated by the information systems attractiveness (dynamics information and interactivity), while their more school oriented colleagues (those students with a meaning study orientation – with a conceptualization of learning as grasping the deep understanding of school materials) comprehend quite quickly that the attractiveness of information technology hinders the learning process (their main goal when interacting with the educational technology).

Therefore, if the design of educational technologies (and the design of technology usage on educational settings) doesn’t weigh up the differences on study orientation (learning conceptualization and outcomes) of learners then that technology can become the new tool of social selection and discrimination, as the students more aloof from school goals and processes (perhaps today’s main segregation source) have more difficulties to interact effectively with the hypermedia technology (perhaps tomorrow’s social discrimination tool).

In order to avoid such technological usage outcomes (discriminating in the future those students more discriminated today by the school system) we must fully understand the interplay between education model, individual studying orientation, educational software quality and usability and teacher’s training.