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Study Shows Positive Tech Attitudes Boost Online Learning Success

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A recent study conducted at a regional Australian university has shed light on the pivotal role of student attitudes towards digital technology and their self-efficacy in enhancing engagement in online education. With the increasing reliance on digital platforms for education, understanding these factors becomes crucial for educators and institutions aiming to foster effective and engaging online learning environments.

The findings were published in the International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education.

The study, involving 110 first-year students, utilised structural equation modelling to analyse the intricate relationships between students’ attitudes, digital literacy, self-efficacy, and their engagement in online learning. The findings reveal a significant positive impact of students’ attitudes towards digital technology on their self-efficacy in online learning. This improved self-efficacy was observed to enhance several dimensions of online engagement, including social, cognitive, behavioural, collaborative, and emotional aspects.

Surprisingly, the study noted that while digital literacy positively influenced self-efficacy, this impact was not statistically significant. This finding challenges the common assumption that digital literacy alone is a key driver of successful online learning engagement. Instead, it underscores the importance of fostering positive attitudes towards digital technology among students.

Seyum Getenet, PhD, a senior lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland, further elaborates on these findings: “This study was motivated by the continuous growth in online enrolments in higher education and the challenges associated with maintaining student engagement and completion rates in such settings in Australia and globally. It aimed to explore how digital self-efficacy, attitude, and literacy influence various dimensions of online learning engagement, considering the increasing importance of online education as a backbone in higher education.”

He added: “The key findings highlighted the role of digital self-efficacy, literacy, and attitude in enhancing online learning engagement across five dimensions: social, cognitive, behavioural, collaborative, and emotional. A positive attitude towards digital technology significantly contributes to digital self-efficacy, although the study reveals that the impact of digital technology literacy on self-efficacy is not significant.

“This suggested that although attitudes towards digital technology were important, mere literacy might not suffice to enhance self-efficacy in online learning contexts. Engagement in online learning, facilitated by positive digital self-efficacy, is a strong predictor of students’ learning engagement and achievements, emphasising the need for educational designs that foster all five dimensions of engagement to ensure effective online learning outcomes. This study’s results underscored the importance of fostering positive digital self-efficacy, attitude, and literacy among students to enhance engagement and learning outcomes in the evolving landscape of online education.”

The study’s implications are far-reaching, especially in the current educational landscape, where online learning is becoming increasingly prevalent. For educators and curriculum designers, the results highlight the necessity of developing strategies that not only enhance digital literacy but also positively shape students’ attitudes towards technology. This dual focus can lead to improved self-efficacy, which is crucial for engaging students in the digital learning process effectively.

In terms of practical application, the study suggests that interventions aimed at improving students’ perceptions and attitudes towards digital technology can be a valuable addition to online learning programmes. This could include incorporating elements that make digital learning more appealing, such as interactive content, gamification, or real-world problem-solving scenarios.

The research indicates that fostering a sense of self-efficacy in students can be a key strategy for enhancing their engagement with online learning. Educators can achieve this by providing clear instructions, offering supportive feedback, and creating an inclusive online learning community that encourages collaboration and peer support.

But the study also cautions against over-reliance on digital literacy as the sole enhancer of online learning success. While digital literacy is undoubtedly important, its impact on self-efficacy and engagement may not be as substantial as previously thought. Therefore, educational programmes should balance the development of technical skills with initiatives that build positive attitudes and self-efficacy.

The study’s findings are particularly relevant in the context of the Covid pandemic, which has accelerated the shift towards online education. As educators and institutions adapt to this new reality, understanding the factors that influence online learning success becomes critical. This research contributes valuable insights into this area, offering a nuanced understanding of how student attitudes and self-efficacy interact to shape online learning engagement.

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