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Field-dependent and Field-independent Learners and e-Learning

Page history last edited by Alexander Farrugia 12 years, 7 months ago

Posted by Alexander Farrugia


As a general rule, e-learning is not a sequential process. Learners can learn various subject topics at his or her own pace and in his or her desired order. This is mentioned by Chen (2002). Ayersman and Minden (1995) emphasise this notion by indicating that e-learning methods also has the ability to adapt to different learning styles of each and every learner individually.


Ford and Chen (2000) studied various learner cognitive styles and applied them to e-learning. Among others, the idea of field-dependence and field-independence of student learning ended up being one of the most extensively studied, being amenable to a large range of applications in education, one of them being e-learning. They first note the differences between field-dependent and field-independent students, these mainly being:


  • While field-dependent learners find it hard to reorganise new information and link it with knowledge acquired beforehand, field-independent learners have no such difficulty
  • Field-dependent learners are, in general, more sociable than their field-independent peers
  • Field-dependent learners experience their surroundings globally, where everything relates to each other in the same context, while field-independent learners experience their surroundings analytically, where everything is scrutinised individually, not as a whole.
  • Field-dependent learners have worse logical skills than field-independent learners by comparison.
  • Field-dependent learners prefer to do group work, while field-independent learners prefer to work on their own.
  • Field-dependent learners do not usually question the material being presented to them, unlike field-independent learners who usually examine and analyse the material presented to them before accepting it.
  • Field-dependent learners typically attempt to focus on the most important things to learn; field-independent learners have the motivation to extract important basics out of the whole perspective.
  • Finally, field-dependent learners do not learn by their own motivation but by the guidance of others (the teacher); field-independent learners do not require an outside teacher to be able to learn effectively.


Since e-Learning is likely to impart learning in a non-linear fashion, field-independent students are generally able to set the learning direction alone, as exacerbated by the last point from the list above, and hence have an advantage over their field-dependent counterparts. However, since traditional learning mainly follows a strict and ordered learning path, field-independent students would be disadvantaged when learning using traditional techniques, while the others would have an advantage.


This suggests once again that blended learning provides a better learning experience for the majority of the students, rather than focusing on traditional learning only or e-learning only as the main method of teaching.




Chen, S. Y. (2002). A cognitive model for non-linear learning in hypermedia programmes. British Journal of Information Technology, Vol 33 No 4.

Ayersman, D.J. and Minden, A. (1995). Individual differences, computers, and instruction. Computers in Human Behavior 11(3/4).

Ford, N. and Chen, S.Y. (2000) Individual Differences, Hypermedia Navigation, and Learning: An Empirical Study. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, Vol 9, No 4.



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