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Creative learning environments in education: a systematic literature review

Davies, D , Jindal-Snape, D , Collier, C , Digby, R , Hay, P and Howe, A (2013) 'Creative learning environments in education: a systematic literature review.' Thinking Skills and Creativity , 8 (April). pp. 80-91. ISSN 1871-1871

This paper reports on a systematic review of 210 pieces of educational research, policy and professional literature relating to creative environments for learning in schools, commissioned by Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS). Despite the volume of academic literature in this field, the team of six reviewers found comparatively few empirical studies published in the period 2005–2011 providing findings addressing the review objectives. There was, however a reasonable weight of research evidence to support the importance of the following factors in supporting creative skills development in children and young people: flexible use of space and time; availability of appropriate materials; working outside the classroom/school; ‘playful’ or ‘games-bases’ approaches with a degree of learner autonomy; respectful relationships between teachers and learners; opportunities for peer collaboration; partnerships with outside agencies; awareness of learners’ needs; and non-prescriptive planning. The review also found evidence for impact of creative environments on pupil attainment and the development of teacher professionalism. LTS intend to use the review as a basis for recommendations to Scottish schools in promoting creativity within Curriculum for Excellence. However, the findings of the review and methodological gaps in the reviewed studies have implications for policy, practice and research internationally.

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Designing for Creative Learning Environments

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Creativity is one of the most coveted qualities of thinking, (Lewis, 2009) bringing social, emotional, cognitive, and professional benefits (Sternberg, 2006). While education has increasingly framed creativity as a key element of teaching and learning, this rhetoric has rarely been realized in formal learning settings, partly due to traditional school limitations. In schools, the steady march of standardized testing restricts teachers’ and students’ creativity. Even in higher education, traditional structures and assumptions still permeate learning settings and designs. Creativity is not a discrete subject matter to be taught, memorized, or drilled—rather, it develops when the learning environment is deliberately designed to encourage and nurture it. Most of the attention on classroom creativity has focused on pedagogical practices or curricula. Teachers’ roles in designing learning environments to support creative expression are often overlooked. This gap becomes starker when we consider the design of online/virtual learning environments, where even less scholarship exists on the design of creative spaces.

In this chapter, we delve into the fundamental principles that define a creative learning environment and how these can be integrated into pedagogical design. Utilizing research, a creative environment instrument, and diverse learning settings as a springboard, we underscore the pivotal link between a learning environment’s design and the nurturing of creativity. We propose the use of the SCALE (Support for Creativity in a Learning Environment) instrument (Richardson & Mishra, 2018) as a frame for understanding and evaluating the characteristics of creative learning environments. Using the SCALE’s core constructs—characteristics of the environment, learning climate, and learner engagement—as benchmarks, we consider how the constructs might be seen as criteria to be embedded in the design of learning environments. We examine the theoretical underpinnings of creativity, creative environments, and learning, identifying gaps in classroom research that the SCALE instrument can bridge. Then, we share applications of these principles across various environments, including online and blended spaces, acknowledging that different environments present distinctive affordances, opportunities, constraints, and possibilities. Our implications take a future-oriented perspective on online creative learning environment design in both research and practice.

Theoretical Foundations

Creativity: the myths and realities.

Creativity is often defined as the process of creating ideas, artifacts, processes, and solutions, that are novel and effective (Cropley, 2003); or, as Runco and Jaeger (2012) articulated as “original” and “effective” in their standard definition. This two-part definition is deceptively simple. The very notion of creativity intimidates many people, as it is often seen as only available to the special or gifted. But, this view of creativity, as only for a select few, is problematic. According to Starko (2013), learning is integral to the creative process, and Guilford (1950) argued that creativity is a form of learning. Creative learning goes beyond academic knowledge and skills to help address the ever-evolving challenges of a changing world. It emphasizes learning creatively and applying knowledge in uncertain contexts (Beghetto, 2021), rejecting the notion of one correct answer. Allowing for uncertainty cultivates creative identities that embrace the complexity of creative processes (Craft et al., 2007).

This complexity can be daunting. When faced with creative thinking or problem-solving challenges, people often hesitate to self-identify as “creative” or are uncomfortable engaging in intellectual risk-taking and open-endedness (Weisberg, 2006). The inherent uncertainty and open-endedness of creative work can be emotionally and mentally taxing, requiring environments that are psychologically safe and supportive as well as dynamic and interesting.

The hesitancy that many feel about identifying as “creative” may relate to how creativity has historically been mythologized as an inherent trait, rather than a developed habit of mind or approach to the world (Cropley, 2016). For thousands of years, creativity has been seen as enigmatic, with Plato once attributing it to the influences of “the muse” (Rothenberg & Hausman, 1976). This myth contrasts with views of many creativity researchers today, who see it as an ability that may grow, flex, and expand through intentional development. Yet, popular myth still views creativity as innate—impervious to development or augmentation (Henriksen et al., 2017). Despite rhetoric about the importance of fostering creativity, most education systems still default to an instrumentalist view of teaching and learning. Prevailing policy tends to constrain or offer no support for teacher creativity, leaving many people uncertain about their individual creative potential. By viewing teachers as empowered designers of creative learning environments, rather than enactors of pre-set content, we might create the conditions for creativity to thrive in education (Benedek et al., 2021)—especially in the design of online learning environments, which are sometimes seen as more remote, removed, and less creative. However, we need to be aware of conditions that support learner creativity—e.g., what does creativity research suggest about creative learning environments?

Creative Environments

Creative environment refers to how a particular context or setting facilitates or influences creativity (Richardson & Mishra, 2018). This includes the psychological, pedagogical, and physical factors of a formal learning environment (in-person or online) or non-traditional learning spaces like museums or gardens (Jindal-Snape et al., 2013). Considering the architecture of an environment, we are influenced by Latour’s (2005) actor-network-theory (ANT), Gibson’s affordance theory (1979), and Dirkin and Mishra’s (2010) idea of “zone of possibility.” Though closely aligned, these frameworks differ subtly in emphasis. ANT suggests that all elements within a network, including non-human entities like the physical environment or technology, play an active role in shaping interactions and outcomes. Gibson’s affordance theory emphasizes the interaction between the possibilities an environment offers (i.e., its “affordances”), and the resulting effect on individuals’ capabilities within that space. Finally, Dirkin and Mishra suggest that every technology works within the “zone of possibility”—or the range of potential actions, behaviors, or outcomes that are achievable within a given context or set of conditions. Each of these theories or approaches is neutral regarding the nature of the “space,” whether physical, online, or blended. The key is that the architecture of the environment can facilitate or hinder communication, collaboration, exploration, and innovation, influencing the quality and nature of learning and creative outcomes.

Creative environments support the pursuit of interests and passions, engage students in co-creation/collaboration, value students’ ideas, and embrace mistakes as a part of learning (Chan & Yuen, 2014). Curiosity-driven activities like exploring new media technologies, fantasy play, outdoor activities, model making, building, planning, and engaging in other design tasks can also foster creativity. Creative environments benefit students in many ways, including increasing personal achievement, GPAs, reasoning abilities, confidence, resilience, motivation, engagement, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills (Jindal-Snape et al., 2013). Such environments promote cooperation and encourage students to take reasonable risks and learn from mistakes. A learning environment is a community, and the values embodied within that community influence members’ behaviors. Values, such as those that support creativity, can be operationalized and embedded within explicit roles, norms, and designed elements of a community. Learning designers, teachers, and students have a part to play in supporting or constraining creativity (Peppler & Solomou, 2011).

The role of the environment encompasses the physical space, interpersonal relationships, and the availability of resources and support (Beghetto & Kaufman, 2014). But, despite the growing interest in creativity research, creativity assessment tools have often overlooked the impact of environments, focusing instead on personality factors or psychological elements, which teachers have less influence over. For instance, in a review of creativity instruments, Henriksen et al. (2015) found that only 3% of existing creativity instruments measured creative environments, which is surprisingly low considering the environment’s influence on creativity (Beghetto & Kaufman, 2014). Moreover, less than 20% of the already small portion of creative environment measures were specifically designed for K-12 students. Speaking to this gap, Richardson and Mishra (2018) designed a tool known as the SCALE, which identifies and evaluates the elements of creativity within learning environments. This tool has become a highly cited and widely used measure for assessing creative learning environments, offering a structure of constructs that pinpoint creative environment characteristics that teachers and learning designers can focus on to support creativity (Cullingford, 2007; Cheng, 2019; Hamid & Kamarudin, 2021; Huang, 2020; Jaatinen & Lindfors, 2019; Katz‐Buonincontro & Anderson, 2020; Ovbiagbonhia et al., 2019). Since practitioners can benefit from clear principles or a frame to guide their efforts in the design of creative learning spaces, we outline key principles from the SCALE. From there, we consider how they might be applied to more varied learning settings.

Framing the Principles of Creative Learning Environments: The SCALE

What is the scale.

The Support for Creativity in a Learning Environment (SCALE) is a practical tool that assists education professionals in designing creative learning environments by identifying and measuring aspects of the physical environment, learning climate, and learner engagement (Richardson & Mishra, 2018). The SCALE tool consists of 14 items related to the (a) physical space and available resources and materials (4 items), (b) classroom atmosphere and relationships (4 items), and (c) tasks and activities that students are engaged in (6 items) (see Table 1). These items are rated on a four-point Likert scale from “no evidence” (0) to “high evidence” (3).

Although the SCALE instrument was developed in the context of K-12 education, we believe the underlying principles apply across contexts and learner ages—i.e., in-person, online and blended; and for learners in K-12, higher education, and adult education spaces. Context and setting clearly matter, but we believe that these principles are adaptable and flexible. Although their instantiations may vary across settings and contexts, the core ideas are transferable and applicable beyond K-12. These broader principles hold true, even while playing out differently in a 4th grade math class or a college English course, or in-person classrooms versus online/blended contexts. In various settings from K-12 to higher education, cases’ contextual variables may influence or constrain the implementation of the core ideas. However, the core ideas provide a valuable foundation for teachers and learning designers to create, build on, and contextualize environments that support creativity.

Key Ideas Supporting the SCALE Principles

The SCALE tool aims to assist teachers and administrators in identifying, measuring, and adjusting learning environmental variables that directly impact creativity as well as individuality, independence, and risk-taking (Lilly & Bramwell-Rejskind, 2004).

The first component of the SCALE tool consists of four items that identify and measure specific aspects of physical environments. In related literature, examples of environmental variables include “lighting, color, decorations, furniture, resources, sensory variables, space configurations, and class size” (Warner & Myers, 2009, p. 30). One of the environmental variables emphasizes the need to make a variety of resources available and accessible, including tools and materials to experiment with ideas and information to creatively solve problems (Peterson & Harrison, 2005). For instance, hyper-content textbooks—which connect content in books to online learning resources through links, barcodes, and augmented reality—have been used to enrich learning experiences and facilitate differences in learning characteristics (Surahman et al., 2021). Also, furniture designs should be psychologically appealing and provide a sense of comfort and safety. Space configurations should be flexible with areas for students to move around and communicate (Warner & Myers, 2009). For example, classrooms have been redesigned to enable active communication and interaction among students, with wheeled lecterns and chairs, round tables, and LCD screens connected to docking systems on tables (Park & Choi, 2014). Additionally, decorations, such as displays of student work, may prompt creativity and lead to new ideas by offering opportunities for reflection and metacognitive thinking (Eckhoff, 2019; Warner & Myers, 2009).

Learn More About Designing Physical Environments that Support Creativity

creative learning environments in education

Wold Architects and Engineers. (2019, May 24). Innovative learning spaces for the next generation: Centerview Elementary School [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUisTKQFDho

The second component of the SCALE tool consists of four items that identify and measure aspects of learning climates. These items focus on the influence that classroom atmosphere and teacher-student/student-student relationships have on creativity. Students need opportunities to explore and express ideas in learning climates that encourage “mistakes, risk-taking, innovation, and uniqueness, along with a certain amount of mess, noise, and freedom” (Edwards & Springate, 1995, p. 4). In these climates, teachers can become powerful aids in fostering creativity by exploring alongside students while facilitating meaningful activities with open-ended discussions (Craft, 2001; Edwards & Springate, 1995). For example, in STEM classrooms, teachers have designed and implemented problem-based learning activities (based on engineering design processes) where students reflect on and productively learn from their successes and failures (Henriksen et al., 2021). Moreover, as students often model the behaviors of their teachers (Gillies, 2006), teachers can encourage students to be caring, respectful, and appreciative of differences by (a) making them feel worthy and loved, (b) showing respect for their ideas, and (c) searching for connections between different ideas and ways of knowing (Craft, 2001; Esquivel, 1995). For instance, teachers can promote critical thinking and enhanced engagement in whole-class discussions on controversial questions by prompting reciprocal interactions and respectful exploration of differences (Henriksen et al., 2022).

Learn More About Designing Learning Climates that Encourage Risk-taking and Creativity

creative learning environments in education

TEDx Talks. (2018, June 1). Take Beautiful Risks|Ron Beghetto|TEDxManchesterHighSchool [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toIJHDxx99A

The third component of the SCALE tool consists of six items that identify and measure aspects of learner engagement. With a focus on the design of tasks that students are involved in, these items examine pedagogical practices, techniques, and methods that can be used to support creativity. As learning is a fundamentally social activity, teachers need to utilize constructivist-based pedagogical practices that enable students to frame and generate meaning with others (Dawson & McWilliam, 2008). Research on creativity in early childhood education has demonstrated that students benefit from long-term, open-ended projects that integrate different subject areas and lead to exploration (Edwards & Springate, 1995). For instance, in STEAM classrooms, teachers have used project-based learning processes to guide students through conducting in-depth research on real-world issues and drawing on information from multiple disciplines to brainstorm possible solutions (Henriksen et al., 2019).

In project-based learning processes, creativity can be supported by giving students more choices regarding what problems they will solve and how much time they will be given to complete work. This support may increase interest, engagement, and learning (Craft, 2001; Greenberg, 1992; Patall et al., 2010). For instance, virtual labs have been designed to let students work at their own pace and address teaching challenges related to (a) simultaneously facilitating learning at preferred paces and (b) maintaining learning motivation and engagement (Lynch & Ghergulescu, 2017). Further, the Creative Problem-Solving method (an active learning process embodying collaborative inquiry concepts within a constructivist paradigm) has been used to foster ingenuity and creativity and enhance motivation. This method utilizes critical reflection, critical thinking, and exploration of possible perspectives and solutions (Samson, 2015). Craft (2001) noted various ways to foster creativity in classrooms—viewing practices, techniques, and methods as an adaptable toolbox to craft each learning environment.

Learn More About Designing Tasks to Increase Learner Engagement

creative learning environments in education

Edutopia. (2016, January 27). STEAM + project-based learning: Real solutions from driving questions [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7LHsL0iB_w

The SCALE tool was designed to assess student creativity in learning environments and guide teachers in supporting and facilitating creativity (Richardson & Mishra, 2018). Its principles have been applied to diverse learning environments, including teacher education, online education, and STEAM programs (de la Peña et al., 2021; Ozkan & Topsakal, 2021; Wahyudi & Winanto, 2018). The SCALE tool has also been used to better understand ways to enhance creativity-fostering practices with emerging technologies (e.g., virtual/augmented reality, 3D design software) (Bereczki & Kárpáti, 2021; Chen et al., 2022). We propose key implications that can transfer to online environments while also supporting creativity within those same environments.

Implications for Practice

The SCALE is not just a measurement tool. It also embodies, in its structure, a set of principles that can help design environments that support creativity—these principles could be used from a pedagogical design standpoint to shape creative learning environments, both in physical and online/blended spaces. That said, we must recognize that affordances and constraints offered by technologically mediated online or blended spaces can differ significantly from those offered by physical spaces. In the sections below, we take each of the three main constructs of the SCALE instrument (Physical Environment, Learning Climate, and Learner Engagement) and discuss how teachers and learning designers might factor these into online and blended learning.

Physical Environment

The meaning of the “physical environment” changes when we consider online and blended learning spaces. One might argue that online and blended spaces offer greater flexibility to designers since they are relatively unconstrained by the geography of space, the materiality of objects, and maybe even the laws of physics. This gives designers of online/blended systems more flexibility to create a “conceptual” playground for students to engage with each other and with ideas. Yet, designers of online and blended environments are often constrained by capabilities of current technological systems and contextual factors outside of their control, such as the students’ physical surroundings, possible distractions, and disruptions. Thus, online and blended setups may be freeing in some respects and limiting in others. An additional constraint may also be the instructor or learning designers’ inability to imagine possibilities and opportunities in existing technologies. For instance, they may seek to replicate existing processes/structures of in-person learning that may not transfer effectively to technologically mediated contexts. This was evident when teachers were forced to teach online during the pandemic. There was a strong urge to replicate conventional structures instead of opening the classroom to the lived world of students and engaging in more project-based learning experiences and innovative practices.

The underlying principle of adaptability and configurability could be translated into the design of online and blended learning environments, creating digital spaces that allow multiple arrangements and configurations to suit diverse needs and preferences. Yet, many existing online learning tools/platforms or modes offer limited adaptable features and opportunities to completely redesign spaces or rethink assumptions. Ideally, platforms could allow users (i.e., not just learning designers but also teachers and students) to rethink and play with layouts in ways that align with their own preferences or needs, including flexible organization of resources and adjustment of accessibility features.

One of the benefits of online or blended learning environments is that students can easily be given a wide array of readily accessible digital resources and supplies. The goal is to include elements that allow a wider range of creative experimentation, help students appreciate the achievements of peers, and make the learning environment a space for fostering collaboration and improvement. A few suggestions in this regard include:

  • utilizing diverse digital resources (e.g., software applications, digital libraries, and creative tools) to give students creative options to explore and experiment; 
  • offering different areas, discussion spaces, or online workspaces that cater to different modes of creativity; and
  • seeking opportunities for students to share their digital work within learning spaces and, potentially, externally with others in the community and the wider world (e.g., creating blogs, videos, portfolio websites, or public digital articles)

Learning Climate

A learning climate that supports creativity depends on the nature of the relationship between teachers and students. This relationship cannot be based on power and fear but should instead be based on trust and respect. The norms of learning spaces should emphasize that the creative process can be messy and nonlinear, and mistakes and failures are to be expected. Teachers and students must be present—physically, cognitively, and emotionally. In this, online and blended spaces have a fundamental disadvantage. Online tools often do not afford the kind of social presence that being in a physical space with other people provides. Online and blended spaces lack the breadth and depth of communication modalities that physical presence provides, which in turn deepens social and emotional distance between participants. Individuals in learning communities need ways to convey their social and emotional selves as authentic beings engaged in shared tasks.

There are a variety of strategies that teachers and learning designers can utilize to address this limitation of technologically mediated educational spaces. These may include the following:

  • providing opportunities for the affective aspect of learning to emerge through meaningful discussions and prompts 
  • using video tools to help enhance social presence—e.g., online office hours, video announcements/messages, or video conferenced meetings (though the mere utilization of video as a communication medium is rarely enough)
  • establishing norms for respectful and empathetic communication where difference and play are encouraged and valued 
  • ensuring students realize it is okay to take risks, explore unconventional solutions, and think divergently—without punishment for mistakes 
  • experimenting with formative activities (e.g., ungrading or providing multiple opportunities to generate solutions)

Learner Engagement

Social presence is as important to learner engagement as it is to classroom climate. Assuming that the instructor is focused on enhancing and supporting the learner presence, the next thing to factor in is the design of the tasks and activities. Students are autonomous agents who drive their own learning—they want to learn with rather than be taught to (or at ). Thus, student choice becomes important in designing learning environments that support creativity. This often takes the shape of open-ended tasks where students have some autonomy in selecting the tasks (or aspects of tasks) and the ways they would like to approach them. Engaging students in inquiry-based, project-based, and interdisciplinary activities promotes their creativity, encouraging them to delve deeper, make connections, and generate innovative solutions. Students who engage in activities that encourage a deep dive into a topic, exploring connections across disciplines and developing their own questions and hypotheses, become genuinely interested and are more likely to invest in their creativity and produce meaningful and innovative work.

One advantage of online and blended learning environments is the flexibility that lets students work at their own pace and manage their time effectively during more in-depth projects. Online settings allow students to structure their workflow and pace themselves, with the (possible) ability to customize deadlines to meet individual needs. That said, there must be a balance between structure and flexibility, providing clear expectations that allow students to plan and manage their learning. Several ways teachers can factor these ideas into their teaching include the following:

  • designing projects, challenges, and problem-solving activities that allow students to explore different possibilities and leverage their strengths 
  • embracing multidisciplinary approaches, letting students apply their creativity to real-world problems, deep investigations, and innovative solutions
  • showing genuine interest and enthusiasm through activities that tap into students’ passions through self-directed projects 
  • integrating multimedia elements, increasing opportunities for students to pursue projects related to their interests
  • providing time for idea development, reflection, and flexible pacing to enhance students’ understanding, connections, and insights

We tend to think of teaching and learning as processes that take place in the minds of students, teachers, and ourselves. Thus, we often think about educational design in terms of how pedagogy influences learning as a mental process. Certainly, cognition is central to learning, but it is important to also consider how human thoughts and behaviors are influenced and driven by the environments we create; and environments are inherently a human construction. At some level, the human environment is “made up,” in that it is constructed by people for a purpose and thus can be remade or shaped differently to fulfill different purposes—like learner creativity. Environments can be changed, shifted, redesigned, recreated, and reimagined.

Think About It!

Consider how education is designed and could be redesigned.

creative learning environments in education

TED Talks. (2023, June 9). How to Design a School for the Future|Punya Mishra|TED [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYRI164Y-_M

In doing design or redesign work, learning designers need thoughtful principles framed by a sense of the environmental factors that influence learning and creativity. This is where we suggest the application of an environmental frame, such as the principles found in the SCALE instrument, to guide the design and construction of creative learning environments from a comprehensive physical/virtual, cognitive, behavioral, and perceptual lens. One of the ultimate goals of education is to prepare students for the future, which is inherently uncertain and requires creativity. In that sense, building creative learning spaces is one of the most important tasks we can undertake toward that fundamental creative purpose of teaching and learning.

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Learning environments are highly influential on creative processes, and many educational psychologists have suggested that environments have the power to make or break the creative potential of students. A learning environment designed to support creativity offers opportunities for divergent thinking and innovative solutions, with an overall atmosphere that fosters communication, collaboration, and risk-taking. The SCALE (Support for Creativity in a Learning Environment) is an evaluation instrument designed to evaluate the creative potential of learning environments. SCALE was created based on an extensive literature review, classroom observations, and administrator/educator/researcher collaborative design and consists of 14 items in three categories that were identified as foundational to supporting student creativity: Learner Engagement, Physical Environment, and Learning Climate. We hope that SCALE and other such instruments can allow for the identification and development of environments more suited for creativity.

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Creativity Crisis: Awakening the Creative Classroom Environment

  • Natalie Tye

This narrative acknowledges a creativity crisis enabled by a regulated curriculum and then provides a clear path for teachers to incorporate creativity into the classroom environment to nurture creative thinkers. In order to frame a creative mindset, it is critical to implement active engagement, instructional flexibility and differentiated goals during all aspects of the learning process for both children and teachers. Eight attributes have been compiled to provide teachers with a scaffold to implement a creative classroom environment with innovative opportunities, critical thinking experiences, and problem-solving instruction.

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Finding common ground.

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com . Read more from this blog .

Creative Learning Environment

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If educators are not promoting a respectful climate in a creative learning space, then they’re just moving furniture.

creative learning environments in education

Today, I saw two first graders working together to open a thermos. Although this is a situation that happens every day in schools across North America, it was nice to watch them figure the situation out together. I was standing next to them but they did not ask me to open it for them. First graders think I’m pretty strong! Instead, one held the thermos while the other one turned the top. A great thing happened...it opened and they did not need adult intervention to accomplish the task.

As I looked around the cafeteria, I watched students talking to one another. Some students were helping each other out with a problem. Perhaps it was tearing off one of those pesky seals on cheese and crackers, or handing a friend a napkin. I realized that I was witnessing an environment of learning, which did not involve teachers. Students were learning from one another and working collaboratively.

Classroom Environment Every summer before the school year begins, teachers work hard to make sure that their classrooms look perfect for when their students arrive. They hang up posters, arrange the desks or tables in a way that will inspire cooperative learning, and create bulletin boards that will motivate students to think.

It is important to create spaces that make our students wonder. Day dreaming every once in awhile isn’t a bad thing if good ideas come from it. A great classroom environment is so important to the educational process. With an increase in testing and performance, a creative classroom environment is one of the only areas left where teachers and students have freedom.

As much as the summer may be the first opportunity to get the classroom prepared, it is certainly not the last. The quest to make sure a classroom is student-centered is never ending. When spending a year with students, classrooms should be rearranged on a monthly basis. Physically moving furniture sends a symbolic message to students and colleagues that classrooms are a place that should never remain stagnant.

Collaboration should be a part of every day instruction. 21st century skills ask students to be able to work with others and educators need to understand that collaboration is a skill that all students need, regardless of the path they choose for their future. With so many connections happening for us on the internet and in person, working with others is a necessary skill.

Many teachers organize the classroom to allow for both whole group instruction, as well as small instructional spaces, where students can work alone or in small groups. However, one thing teachers should do is make sure they get student input into where the physical classroom space is concerned. This collaboration between students and teachers helps students understand the important part they play in the classroom experience. Where do students think the tables or desks should be placed? Where would they like to see those small creative spaces where they can work alone or with a partner?

A creative classroom environment begins with making sure the class is inviting to students. It should be a place that will inspire imagination. Whether it’s incorporating a rocking chair for students to sit in while they are reading or using ball chairs to create a creative place to sit as well as a place that will promote good posture, the classroom environment is one of the most important aspects to any classroom.

In addition, the classroom environment is about so much more than just the physical space. If teachers are not promoting a student-centered learning environment where thinking and respect are some of the key ingredients, it doesn’t matter what the space looks like. If educators are not promoting a respectful climate in a creative learning space, then they’re just moving furniture.

Classroom Climate Starts from the Top Down Students should feel engaged when they walk into their classroom. It’s a challenge that every teacher should be prepared to meet. It should be a challenge for principals as well because the building environment is what inspires each teacher to want to create that space within their classrooms.

Principals, in addition to teachers, should want to create a space where every student, teacher and parent feels that they can enter. Although there will always be parents who do not want to enter the school, part of the quest to create an inviting school environment is to try to get those parents to change their minds about schools.

Creating a creative learning experience takes a great deal of work but it also takes a team to complete the task. Students are an important part of that team. If teachers are not inspired when they walk into their classroom, their students probably are not inspired either. We are fortunate in education because we have the opportunity every day to make an impact on students. Being an educator offers us a reciprocal benefit because our students definitely make an impact on us and that is easily done when we create a respectful and creative learning environment.

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Leveraging the Environment to Ignite Children’s Literacy Learning

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Four-year-old Camila opens a class recipe book in the home environment center that includes photos and recipes from children’s families. She turns to her family’s recipe for corn tortillas. Pointing to the text, she says, “First, I have to put in la masa.” She dips a measuring cup into a canister with a picture and the words  corn flour  and  masa  on the outside, then dumps two imaginary scoops into a bowl. She returns to the book and says, “Then I have to put in the water.” Camila reaches for an empty pitcher and pretends to pour in water. She puts scraps of paper on a plate to represent a pile of tortillas then calls, “Tortillas for sale! Come have a hot, fresh tortilla!”

Tariq sits down. “I want a tortilla,” he says.

Teacher Olivia, who is documenting Camila’s play, joins the scene and prompts, “Oh, I think your customer might need a menu to help him decide what else he wants with his tortilla.” Camila picks up a clipboard and marker and begins to write strings of letter-like symbols. When she’s done, she hands the clipboard to Tariq and says, “We have cheese and chicken. What would you like?”

Opportunities to promote young children’s language and literacy development abound in early learning settings. Early childhood educators can facilitate these experiences by offering materials, routines, and interactions that set the stage for rich language and literacy activities and exchanges, as Olivia did in the vignette above. Among other literacy skills, the class recipe book allowed Camila to demonstrate her understanding of print concepts (such as holding the text correctly, flipping the pages, pointing to the words), to strengthen her oral language by integrating both of her languages, and to use her emerging writing skills through the use of strategically placed materials.

As teacher educators, we (the authors) work in racially, economically, and geographically diverse higher education contexts. Situated across two- and four-year institutions, we work with early childhood educators to develop their learning environments for children and families in rural and urban communities. Focusing on the ecology of the classroom allows educators to intentionally create opportunities throughout the learning day to foster children’s early literacy and language skills. In this article, we share ways to shape the classroom environment to immerse young learners in authentic literacy explorations.

Using Materials to Enrich Early Literacy Environments

The learning environment is a crucial part of early childhood education. Teachers are called to design and implement settings that help every child achieve their full potential across developmental domains and content areas. This includes opportunities to embed rich literacy experiences, such as the reading and writing tools Olivia included in the home environment center.

Teachers can use a variety of materials to promote children’s literacy. These include

  • integrating books, interactive print materials, and other literacy props.  Turning the dramatic play center into an animal shelter invites children to use animal name cards, adoption certificates, and veterinarian health charts. In the science discovery area, STEM-focused writing tools and print materials could include scientific illustrations, graph paper, markers, science logs, rulers, and lab books.
  • emphasizing print by labeling classroom spaces.  Working with children to label supplies (art supplies, musical instruments, blocks) and learning areas (storage areas, cubbies) with pictures, symbols, and/or words increases ownership and agency in these spaces and promotes literacy skills.
  • honoring children’s diverse social identities.  Knowing about and valuing children’s unique social and cultural experiences help teachers to include children’s home literacy assets and practices. Emphasizing literacy traditions found in oral storytelling, poetry, music, and the spoken word honors diverse literacy and language expressions. Providing props like finger puppets, felt boards, and costume accents for storytelling supports children’s narrative storytelling and reenactments.

Besides giving children daily access to literacy tools, these robust, intentional literacy environments also set the stage for teachers to facilitate children’s literacy engagement during everyday routines and interactions.

Using Routines to Spark Literacy Expressions

Both formal and informal routines occur across the learning day. Routines support children through transitions, mealtimes, and center time explorations. They also inform read-aloud activities, morning meeting discussions, and even outside play.

Teachers can integrate language and literacy opportunities into children’s routines by

  • creating literacy activities that are personally relevant to children.  Morning sign-in routines can start with pictures of children. Adding their names to these pictures draws children’s attention to the new text element and encourages conversations about the role of print. As children gain confidence in recognizing their names, teachers can remove the pictures, shifting the literacy environment again. Over time, children can progress to writing their own names to sign in.
  • watching for opportunities to establish new child-initiated literacy routines and activities.  When children notice ants on the playground, the teacher can prompt them to wonder how they can learn more about the insects. Following the children’s lead, the class could decide to create a “wonder investigation basket” with notebooks, informational texts about insects, writing tools, and magnifying glasses that can accompany outside play.
  • enriching vocabulary through playful engagement with new words and concepts.  Celebrating children’s literacy moments is an engaging and playful way to expand children’s word knowledge and their world (or background) knowledge. The “Recipe Chant” (see below) is one way Olivia, from the opening vignette, could reinforce the recipe book experience.

Recipe Chant 

In this call-and-response chant, there is a bit of rhyming wordplay, recognition for individual children, and explicit use of key vocabulary (cookbook, recipe, tortillas) used in Olivia’s classroom.  

Hey Hey (students echo Hey Hey)  

We have a new recipe (A new recipe) 

Camila’s tortillas (Camila’s tortillas) 

It’s in our cookbook (It’s in our cookbook) 

Be sure to take a look (Be sure to take a look) 

Using Interactions to Support Children’s Literacy Engagement

Meaningful interactions occur in the context of relationships. A rich literacy environment offers children tools to develop reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. However, the availability of materials and other literacy supports doesn’t guarantee that children will use them. Teacher-child interactions—such as conversations, modeling, scaffolding, and feedback—are critical.

Educators can expand children’s interactions and support their literacy experiences by

  • responding with enthusiasm and encouraging conversational exchanges.  Teachers can welcome children at arrival and engage them in conversation as they transition from unpacking to table activities. Supporting children in turn taking during conversation and extending their responses to include more vocabulary and longer sentences build important literacy skills.
  • scaffolding children’s literacy and language use organically.  Observing how children engage in the environment reveals opportunities for extending literacy. Olivia, for example, supported Camila and Tariq’s literacy play in the tortilla restaurant by suggesting the use of a menu.
  • integrating, modeling, and using technology to support children’s literacy expressions.  Educators can use technology and media to support meaningful interactions among children in the classroom and to connect families to the learning setting. (See “Using Technology to Foster Interactions” below for an example.)

Using Technology to Foster Interactions

Applications and programs like Book Creator and Flip allow children to use technology tools as creators rather than passive consumers. With the class recipe book, for example, Olivia could create a digital file and share the link with families, who could access it at home. Children could use an iPad or other device to access the file in the classroom. In this way, literacy learning is experienced across home and early learning settings.

Educators expand children’s literacy learning when they intentionally use their settings’ materials, routines, and interactions to center children’s interests and engagement in productive literacy tasks. To ensure your environment is promoting these essential early skills, we suggest asking:

  • What space in your classroom could be enhanced with additional literacy materials?
  • Where could you include a new routine or revise an old routine to promote literacy learning?
  • How can you intentionally leverage your interactions with children to support literacy development?

Photograph: © Getty Images Copyright © 2024 by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. See permissions and reprints online at  NAEYC.org/resources/permissions .

creative learning environments in education

Leslie La Croix is an assistant professor in early childhood education at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Kimberly Sanders Austin is professor of early childhood education at Southwest Virginia Community College in Richlands, Virginia.

Christine Pegorraro Schull is a professor of early childhood development at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Virginia.

Sara E. Miller, EdD, is a professor of education at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia.

Julie K. Kidd is a professor emeritus at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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Effects of using inquiry-based learning on EFL students’ critical thinking skills

  • Bantalem Derseh Wale 1 &
  • Kassie Shifere Bishaw 2  

Asian-Pacific Journal of Second and Foreign Language Education volume  5 , Article number:  9 ( 2020 ) Cite this article

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The aim of this study was to examine the effects of using inquiry-based learning on students’ critical thinking skills. A quasi-experimental design which employed time series design with single group participants was used. A total of 20 EFL undergraduate students who took advanced writing skills course were selected using comprehensive sampling method. Tests, focus group discussion, and student-reflective journal were used to gather data on the students’ critical thinking skills. The participants were given a series of three argumentative essay writing pretests both before and after the intervention, inquiry-based argumentative essay writing instruction. While the quantitative data were analyzed using One-Way Repeated Measures ANOVA, the qualitative data were analyzed through narration. The findings of the study revealed that using inquiry-based argumentative writing instruction enhances students’ critical thinking skills. Therefore, inquiry-based instruction is suggested as a means to improve students’ critical thinking skills because the method enhances students' interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference, explanation, and self-regulation skills which are the core critical thinking skills.

Introduction

Critical thinking is the ability to ask and/or answer insightful questions in a most productive way in order to reach on a comprehensive understanding (Hilsdon, 2010 ). It consists interpretation, analysis, evaluation, synthesize explanation, inference, and self-regulation. Empowering critical thinking skills among students in higher education especially in academic writing through the integration of critical thinking into the teaching learning process is essential in order to develop students’ problem solving, decision making and communication skills (Abdullah, 2014 ; Adege, 2016 ; McLean, 2005 ). Inquiry-based learning develops students’ critical thinking skills because it helps students to develop interpreting, analyzing, evaluating, inferring, explaining, and self-regulation skills which are the core critical thinking skills (Facione, 2011 ; Facione & Facione, 1994 ; Hilsdon, 2010 ).

The level of thinking depends on the level of questioning as long as the questioning leads to new perspectives (Buranapatana, 2006 ). When students learn to ask their own thought-provoking questions in and outside the classroom, and provide explanatory answers, they are well on the way to self-regulation of their learning. In inquiry-based writing instruction, students engaged in writing lessons and tasks that enhance their ability to apply these critical thinking skills because the method emphasize to produce texts through inquisition and investigation. In writing, when students’ written papers realize these skills, the students considered that their critical thinking skills are developed.

Inquiry-based learning is the act of gaining knowledge and skills through asking for information (Lee, 2014 ). It is a discovery method of learning that involves students in making observations; posing questions; examining sources; gathering, analyzing, interpreting, and synthesizing data; proposing answers, explanations and predictions; communicating findings through discussion and reflection; applying findings to the real situation, and following up new questions that may arise in the process. Inquiry-based learning emphasizes students’ abilities to critically view, question, and explore various perspectives and concepts of the real world. It takes place when the teacher facilitates and scaffolds learning than gives facts and knowledge so that students engage in investigating, questioning, and explaining their world in a student-centered learning environment.

Although inquiry-based learning is intended for science as it is classified as scientific approach, it can be implemented in language field. Rejeki ( 2017 ) mentioned that inquiry-based language learning is useful in promoting lifelong education that enables EFL learners to continue the quest for knowledge throughout life. Similarly, Lee ( 2014 ) stated that inquiry-based learning is an analogy for communicative approach. The principles of inquiry-based learning are compatible with Communicative Language Teaching because communicative approach focuses on communicative proficiency rather than mere mastery of structure to develop learners’ communicative competence as to inquiry-based learning. Inquiry-based learning is, therefore, a form of Communicative Language Teaching which serves to bring down the general principles of communicative approach, and implement in language classrooms in an inquisitive and discovery manner (Lee, 2014 ; Qing & Jin, 2007 ; Richards & Rodgers, 2001 ). While communicative approach is an umbrella of various active language learning methods, inquiry-based learning is one of the active learning methods that drive learning through inquisition and investigation. It mainly focuses on discovery and learner cognitive development to be achieved using thoughtful questions.

In inquiry-based writing instruction, students engaged in pre-writing tasks through generating ideas, narrowing and clarifying topics; exploring information on their writing topics from various sources; explaining their discoveries gained from the exploration, and elaborating their thinking through transforming their understanding into the real world situation. When students come up through this distinct process in manipulating such tasks, their critical thinking skills can be enhanced because this process develops students’ ability to analyze, synthesis, and evaluate concepts.

This study also revealed that students’ critical thinking skills has been enhanced through inquiry-based writing instruction because the method focuses on the process of knowledge discovery that involves students in seeking, collecting, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information; creating ideas, and solving problems through communication, collaboration, deep thinking, and learner autonomy. The study can contribute to the field of foreign language learning by possibly leading English language teachers and learners into a more effective language learning method. The study has applicable significances to EFL teachers to understand the nature and application of inquiry-based learning.

Literature review

Developing students’ critical thinking skills through inquiry-based writing instruction.

Inquiry-based learning develops students’ critical thinking skills because the method improves the students’ mental activities such as interpretation, analysis, evaluation, explanation, inference, and self-regulation. Previous studies have shown that students’ critical thinking abilities are significantly higher when students are taught through inquiry-based learning comparing with traditional teaching methods. Having a free medium of student learning class where students will share good experiences through an inquiry process that is based on curiosity is a preferred learning method to the act of teaching that characterized with teaching by forced (Ahmad, Sitti, Abdul, Mohammad, & Sanitah, 2014 ; Iakovos, 2011 ).

By using inquiry-based learning in writing lessons, students can develop critical thinking skills, and learn how to generate and organize ideas through investigation or/and discussion to find out alternative ideas, and produce sound written papers. Accordingly, students who used inquiry-based learning techniques in their language learning are better achievers because they have an active role in choosing the writing topics, and on developing the outcomes of their own investigations. Inquiry-based learning has impacts in EFL classes to help students improve the target language, and develop other abilities needed to understand this constantly changing world. When students participate in real life situations, they can develop effective research skills, adapt and respond better to change, and they are also prepared to the development of critical thinking skills (Escalante, 2013 ; Ismail, 2006 ; Lessner & Craig, 2010 ).

Similar studies conducted by Ash and Kluger-Bell ( 2012 ); Byker, Harden, Heafner, and Holzberg ( 2017 ); Ahmad et al. ( 2014 ) discovered that learners preferred and performed much better with confirmation level of inquiry compared to guided, structured and open inquiry because teachers provide every needed conditions and allow the student the freedom to learn independently in the confirmation level. In the same vein, Ghaemi and Mirsaeed ( 2017 ) investigated the impacts of inquiry-based learning approach on critical thinking skill of EFL students, and revealed that doing inquiry-based activities in EFL classroom increased the critical thinking ability of the students.

Finally, Naryanti ( 2017 ) who conducted an action research to explore the extent to which inquiry-based learning method can improve grade eight students’ ability in writing a descriptive text find out that inquiry-based learning method is able to improve the students’ descriptive writing skills. The students concerned actively in the learning process, especially in conveying their opinions, asking and responding questions, and enthusiasm in producing written texts.

In sum, the aforementioned studies indicated that using inquiry-based learning in ESL/EFL writing classroom improves students’ critical thinking skills, and help them to become lifelong mind seekers. However, most of the aforementioned studies were conducted on pretest-posttest two groups design unlike the present study which followed single group pretest-posttest design employing time serious design. On the other hand, the finding of these study show the effects of using inquiry-based learning excluding the local context, where the present study was conducted. However, in the study area, inquiry-based learning seems to have been a missing feature of English as a foreign language leaning in general and writing skills in particular. Thus, examining the effects of using inquiry-based learning on EFL students’ critical thinking skills in the local context was relevant to fill the research gap.

Why inquiry-based learning for EFL students’ critical thinking skills?

Critical thinking plays a significant role for higher education ESL/EFL learners’ in order to produce sound written texts including argumentative essays (Klimova, 2013 ; Ghaemi & Mirsaeed, 2017 ). However, various studies conducted on students’ critical thinking skills and writing performance revealed that students are commonly challenged to support their arguments through referring to and synthesizing academic sources due to poor reasoning and unsupported claims. Especially, synthesizing sources is a complex task to second and foreign language learners to comprehend, paraphrase, and summarize written texts (Alagozlu, 2007 ; Goodwin, 2014 ). Evaluating and synthesizing sources into their own writing are the elements of critical thinking that students find challenging to express their own academic thoughts (Ahmad et al., 2014 ; Melles, 2009 ; Wette, 2010 ).

Fostering critical thinking skills is a challenging task nowadays since learners are exposed to an enormous information influx, such as the Internet (Klimova, 2013 ). They are offered pre-chewed chunks of ideas and opinions and often, they are not made to think about them. However, a critical thinker should be alerted and in his/ her inquisitive nature inquire, judge and evaluate all such sources critically. Hence, using inquiry-based learning in writing classes is helpful to foster students’ critical thinking skills.

Paul and Elder ( 2007 ) states that the conventional way of teaching, the product approach, is criticized in its inadequacy to prepare university graduates to deal with existing complex situations, because students are assumed to develop critical thinking skills depending on books, lecture notes, and handouts. It also led students learn with lack of interest on topics, receive rather than to think critically and search for knowledge. The students were not mostly motivated to observe their environment critically, inquire things, investigate problems, and create new knowledge (Ferris & Hedgcock, 2013 ; Graham, MacArthur, & Fitzgerald, 2013 ; Yen, 2014 ). However, in learning situations like inquiry-based learning where critical thinking is emphasized; students aim to understand ideas with range of explorations and follow new leads; learn with curiosity or interest of topics, and reach on implications.

Local researchers like Daniel ( 2004 ); Dawit and Yalew ( 2008 ) find out that conventional teaching methods are still in use though teachers are expected to use active learning methods. The lecture method, which is considered as the conventional method of teaching, is used in colleges that teachers usually focus on giving lectures, and students depend primarily on lecture where discovery is not that much encouraged. The researcher’s language teaching experience also shows that students were not that much learning to improve their critical thinking skills in writing classes. In other terms, the students’ papers were not adequately developed due to lack of interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference, explanation, and self-regulation. However, there are no local studies conducted to investigate the effects of using inquiry-based writing instruction in EFL context. Therefore, the present study examines the effects of using inquiry-based learning on EFL students’ critical thinking skills since the method involves students in seeking, collecting, analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating information based on student interest.

Research question

This study was designed to answer the following research question:

What are the effects of using inquiry-based learning on EFL students’ critical thinking skills?

Research methodology

Design of the study.

The research design of the study was quasi-experimental that employs a time series design with single group participants. For the purpose of this study, the participants were given a series of three argumentative essay writing pretests before the intervention, inquiry-based argumentative writing instruction, and other three similar series of argumentative essay writing posttests.

Participants

In this study, a total of 20 EFL second year undergraduate university students who were enrolled for advanced writing skills course were selected using comprehensive sampling method. In the students’ university stay, Advanced Writing Skills Course is the final writing course given to them. Before this course, the students have taken both Communicative English Skills and Basic Writing Skills, and Intermediate Writing Skills Courses in their university stay. Earlier to these university courses, they have learned English language subject beginning from grade one to university.

Data gathering instruments

The data on the students’ critical thinking skills were gathered through tests, focus group discussion, and student-reflective journal.

The test that comprises both pretests and posttests was used to gather data on students’ critical thinking skills. Three consecutive argumentative essay writing pre-tests were given to understand the students’ existing critical thinking skills. Likewise, other three consecutive argumentative essay writing posttests were also given to determine the effects of the intervention, whether students’ critical thinking skills were improved. The tests were developed by the researchers considering the students’ local context and their background knowledge.

The critical thinking skills rubric was adapted from Facione ( 2015 ), “Critical Thinking: What It is and Why It Counts” (from APA Report: Expert Consensus Statement on Critical Thinking) incorporating common critical thinking skills including interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference, and explanation. The rubric is a four point scale from one to four that refers to poor, good, very good, and excellent respectively. Two experienced EFL university teachers marked students’ argumentative essays independently based on the given criteria. Training on the use of the rubric was given to the raters. Inter-rater reliability was calculated with Pearson’s correlations (Pearson’s, r), and it was 0.75 which shows the reliability of the test.

Focus group discussion

The focus group discussion was needed to gather qualitative data on students’ critical thinking skills empowerment. The students were asked to forward their views on the relevance of inquiry-based learning to enhance their skills to interpret, analyze, evaluate, infer, explain, and self-regulate in writing argumentative essays.

Student-reflective journal

The Student-Reflective Journal was employed to collect data on the effectiveness of inquiry-based learning on students’ critical thinking skills. Accordingly, the participants were reported their feelings on the effectiveness of inquiry-based learning method and their critical thinking skills empowerment.

Procedure and data collection

In the data collection, first, a teaching material used to teach argumentative essay writing was prepared using the literature in accordance with inquiry-based learning method and critical thinking skills. In other terms, the teaching was developed in the way that enable the students to make observations; pose questions; examine sources; gather, analyze, interpret, and synthesize data; propose answers, explain and predict; communicate findings through discussion and reflection; apply their findings to the real situation, and follow up new questions that arise in the process because these are the focuses of inquiry-based learning. On the other hand, it also developed in the way that enable students to interpret, analyze, infer, evaluate, explain, and self-regulate which are the core critical thinking skills. In sum, the teaching material was prepared considering the components of inquiry-based learning, and critical thinking skills.

Then, three consecutive argumentative essay writing pre-tests were administered to the students to identify their critical thinking performance before the intervention. Following the pre-tests, the intervention was given.

The intervention was an inquiry-based argumentative essay writing instruction delivered for 4 weeks using the aforementioned teaching material. In the teaching-learning process students discover their own writing topics, generate ideas, evaluate what they have and what they need, gather and evaluate information from different sources, write up drafts with evidences, discuss with colleague and subject area experts for feedback, and write up essays related to their real life situation. When the intervention was given, the Student-Reflection Journal was collected from the students.

Next to the completion of the teaching-learning practice, the participants were given three consecutive argumentative essay writing post-tests which were identical with the pre-tests. The post-tests were needed to determine whether the inquiry-based essay writing instruction make improvements on students’ critical thinking skills. By the completion of the post-tests, the focus group discussion was conducted.

Data analysis methods

The quantitative data which were gathered through pre-tests and post-tests were analyzed using One-Way Repeated Measures ANOVA , using the Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS) version 23 software program. One-Way Repeated Measures ANOVA was used to examine whether there were differences on students’ critical thinking skills in writing argumentative essays before and after the intervention. On the other hand, the qualitative data which were collected through focus group discussion and student-reflective journal were analyzed through narration.

Result and discussion

Essay writing tests.

The students were given three essay writing pretests and other three essay writing posttests in order to measure their critical thinking skills before and after the intervention. Accordingly, this section presents the students’ test results gained from the pretests and posttests which were analyzed using One Way Repeated Measures ANOVA .

Table 1 indicates that the students’ Mean scores in Pretest-1, Pretest-2, and Pretest-3, were 38.15, 38.00, and 38.35, respectively. The table also depicts that the students’ Mean scores in Posttest-1, Posttest − 2, and Posttest − 3, were 65.90, 65.70, and 66.25, respectively. From these results, we can understand that the students’ Mean scores in the pretests were similar. Likewise, their Mean scores in the Posttests were also similar. However, when the Mean scores in the Pretests and Posttests were compared, they have differences. In other words, the students’ Mean scores in the posttests were greater than those of the pretests. It indicates that the intervention made the differences on the students’ pretest and posttest Mean scores. In sum, it can be understood that the inquiry-based argumentative essay writing instruction has positive effects on the students’ critical thinking skills.

The findings of this study imply that inquiry-based learning has improved EFL students’ critical thinking skills which includes interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation, and self-regulation. In line with this research finding, previous studies also show that inquiry-based learning has positive impacts on students’ critical thinking skills. Ash and Kluger-Bell ( 2012 ) find out that by using inquiry-based learning in writing lessons, students develop critical thinking skills, and learn how to generate and organize ideas through investigation or/and discussion to find out alternative ideas, and produce sound written papers. Inquiry-based learning is appropriate when deep discipline knowledge; higher-order thinking skills or strategies including reasoning skills; adequate motivational beliefs or attitude and value are intended as learning outcomes, rather than lower-order thinking skills like, to recall facts.

Table 2 shows the Within-Subjects Effects of the tests. In the table, the Sphericity Assumed indicated that 5 with-in subjects df, and 95 errors df . The Mean Square is 4632.348 with 8.468 F, and Significance value is .000. F (5, 95) = 547.065, p  < 0.005. It means that the students test scores have differences based on time, but the differences in all times are not the same.

Thus, in order to identify the difference among each of the test scores, Post Hoc analysis was run. The Post Hoc analysis for a repeated measures variable is a paired sample t-test.

Table 3 depicts that there were no difference between pretest-1 and pretest-2 (.603); pretest-1 and pretest-3 (.163); pretest-2 and pretest-3 (.273). In the same manner, there were no differences between posttest-1 and posttest-2 (.464); posttest-1 and posttest-3 (.376); posttest-2 and posttest-3 (.280). In contrast, there were differences in all of the remaining combinations (.000). It indicates that the differences were made due to the intervention given to the students. Thus, it can be concluded that the inquiry-based argumentative writing instruction improves the students’ critical thinking skills.

This finding shows that using inquiry-based learning in EFL classroom fosters students’ abilities to interpret, analyze, infer, evaluate, explain, and self-regulate which are the core critical thinking skills. In line with this research finding, Ghaemi and Mirsaeed ( 2017 ) revealed that doing inquiry-based activities in EFL classroom increased the critical thinking ability of the students which enable them to analyze, evaluate, and explain information. Thus, it shows that using inquiry-based writing instruction enhances students’ critical thinking skills.

The students’ focus group discussion result revealed that the use of inquiry-based learning in argumentative essay writing classes can enhance students’ critical thinking skills. Most of the focus group discussion participants reported that they had not wrote effective argumentative essays before they use inquiry-based learning method. However, after using this method of learning, they have developed their critical thinking skills including interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference, explanation, and self-regulation. For instance, one of the participants reported that his critical thinking skills have been enhanced after learning argumentative essay writing through inquiry-based learning method because he has developed the way to interpret, analyze, and evaluate information. He can generate logical ideas which are better to persuade his audiences, and write essays without emotional feelings.

The other focus group discussion participant voiced that the learning method empowers her critical thinking skills because before using inquiry-based learning her writings were not appropriate for audience. However, after taking the lessons in the intervention, she knows what to write considering her purpose and audience, how to analyze information, and how to produce reasonable argumentative essays.

The other student also mentioned his performance as follows:

My critical thinking skills such as interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference, explanation, and self-regulation are very good now. Especially, when I pick two points from these points, analysis and evaluation, I can analyze and evaluate written arguments because of the inquiry-based essay writing instruction. So now, I can easily interpret, analyze, and evaluate data, and even regulate myself to write my argumentative essay to persuade my audience.

In a similar manner, another participant also reported that in inquiry-based learning, she discovered her writing topic, searched for information, and evaluated, criticized and analyzed the collected data, and wrote drafts, incorporated necessary feedbacks, and produced effective essays in contrast to the previous methods. She further explained that during this process, her critical thinking skills were enhanced due to the instruction given through inquiry-based learning. Similarly, another respondent also said that after learning through inquiry-based learning, his critical thinking skills were enhanced. As he further elaborated, he could become to analyze and evaluate information in writing argumentative essays while using this method.

In addition, the students reported that the critical thinking skills that they enhanced in the teaching learning process were relevant to their real life situations. One of them stated that “every English language graduate person and critical thinking towards writing dependently go together. I am going to do two things in the future as an English graduate man. These are critically writing texts and critically evaluating what another person has written. So, I think, the critical thinking skills that I developed through inquiry-based writing instruction are helpful to the rest of my life”.

The students mentioned that critical thinking helps in their work life as university graduate students because it has a lot of things for them. According to their speech, they should be competitive enough to become successful in their work life. So, being a good critical thinker helps to think differently, and to be successful. They further voiced that skills can also help them to make good decisions in their real life situations apart from their working environment. In sum, the students’ focus group discussion results indicated that the students’ critical thinking skills including interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference, explanation, and self-regulation were enhanced due to the inquiry-based writing instruction. In the same manner, Ghaemi and Mirsaeed ( 2017 ) revealed that most of the participants who used inquiry-based learning believed that their critical thinking abilities changed positively. Therefore, it is worth mentioning that there should be opportunities for students to have enough exposure to inquiry-based learning.

The data gained from the students’ reflective journal indicated that when the students used inquiry-based essay writing instruction, they have developed their critical thinking skills including interpretation, analysis, and evaluation, synthesize, inference, explanation, and self-regulation. They note that the strategies used in the teaching learning process and incorporated in the teaching material were effective to improve their critical thinking skills. The students reported that the way they learned argumentative writing has enhanced their critical thinking skills like interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference, explanation, and self-regulation.

In line with this finding, a study conducted in Whittier College, USA to assess students’ feedback on the effectiveness of inquiry-based teaching in second language pedagogy shows that the method reinforced students’ understanding of the course material (Lee, 2014 ). In addition, McLean ( 2005 ); Abdullah ( 2014 ); Adege ( 2016 ) also revealed that empowering critical thinking skills among students in higher education especially in academic writing through the integration of critical thinking into the teaching learning process is essential in order to develop students’ problem solving, decision making and communication skills which are needed for their future carrier.

Therefore, based on the findings of the study, all together, it can be understood that using inquiry-based learning in argumentative essay writing class empowers students’ critical thinking skills including interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference, explanation, and self-regulation. In other terms, when the students have used inquiry-based argumentative writing instruction, they comprehend and expressed the meaning of their writing issues and judgments in their argumentative essays. They recognized the then argumentative issues and described them in their essays. The students have collected data on their topics and constructed categories of protagonist and antagonist ideas for their argumentative essay development. They also paraphrased ideas taken from other sources in their own words. These indicate that the students have developed their interpretation skills which is one of the core critical thinking skills.

In the same vein, the students have enhanced their analysis skills through inquiry-based learning. In inquiry-based writing instruction, the students identified the intended and actual inferential relationships among statements to express beliefs in their argumentative writing. The students examined ideas, detected, and analyzed arguments in their writing. They identified the similarities and differences between opposing ideas in developing their persuasive essays. The students drafted the relationship of sentences or/and paragraphs to each other and the main purpose of their argumentative essays. They also constructed convincing reasons to support or criticize a given argumentative idea, and reach on a strong conclusion. Thus, it shows that the students have enhanced their analysis skills which is one of the core critical thinking skills.

The results revealed that the students have developed their evaluation skills using inquiry-based instruction. In other words, in the teaching-learning process, the students have determined the credibility of their source of information while they gathered data for their writing topics. They assessed and compared the logical strengths and weaknesses of opposing arguments. They also judged whether the evidence at their hands did not contradict each other, and support their conclusion. Finally, they judged if their arguments in their argumentative essays were relevant and applicable in an existing real-life situation. It implies that the students have developed their evaluation skills, one of the core critical thinking skills through inquiry-based learning.

The students have also enhanced their inference skills in writing their argumentative essays through inquiry. This means that the students have identified pertinent thoughts needed to draw reasonable conclusions in their essays. In doing so, they formed conjectures and hypotheses; considered the relevant information, and educed consequences flowing their data. They questioned their evidence, conjectured alternatives, and drawn conclusions when they developed argumentative essays through inquiry-based learning. They constructed meaning from their readings and formulated synthesis of related ideas into a coherent perspective to produce sound argumentative essays.

Beyond interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, the students explained what they think, and how they arrived at their judgments in developing their essays. In other terms, the students have developed their explanation skills due to the inquiry-based writing instruction. They have presented their argumentative essays in a cogent and coherent way. They stated and justified reasons in terms of their evidential and contextual considerations upon which their results were based. They presented their reasons in the form of persuasive arguments in their essays. They also reflected on the methods, procedures, and techniques (in the classroom) they used in writing their argumentative essays.

Finally, the data gained from the student-reflective journal and focus group discussion revealed that the students have developed their self-regulation skills, which is one of the core critical thinking skills, through using inquiry-based learning. Accordingly, the students confirmed that they self-consciously monitored or corrected their judgments in analyzing and evaluating contradictory ideas in producing their argumentative essays. They questioned themselves to examine, correct, and confirm their reasons for producing essays. They double-checked their reasons by recalculating their evidence. The students reconsidered their interpretations and judgments in the view of further analysis. They revised their answers in view of the errors they discovered in their argumentative essay writing. Even, they have changed some of their concluding ideas in view of the realization that they had misjudged the importance of certain factors when coming to their earlier decisions. Altogether, using inquiry-based argumentative writing instruction enhanced EFL students’ interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference, explanation, and self-regulation skills which are the core critical thinking skills.

In sum, though the findings of this study are in line with previous studies, most of them have examined the enhancement of critical thinking skills through using inquiry-based learning in writing classes in general rather than showing the effects of the method in argumentative essay writing classes in particular. Thus, the present study exclusively revealed the effects of using inquiry-based argumentative essay writing instruction on EFL students’ critical thinking skills. In other terms, it contributed to the existing literature in disclosing the effects of using inquiry-based argumentative writing instruction on EFL students’ critical thinking skills. Besides, the present study can contribute to the field of English as a foreign language education by showing the effects of using inquiry-based learning on students’ critical thinking skills in the local context where this study has been conducted. This is because, in the study area, inquiry-based learning seems to have been a missing feature of English as a foreign language learning.

Conclusion and implication

The findings of the study revealed that the use of inquiry-based learning in foreign language learning classroom empowers students’ critical thinking skills. Inquiry-based learning has positive impacts on students’ critical thinking skills which include interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation, and self-regulation. In other terms, when the students have used inquiry-based argumentative essay writing instruction in their academic writing classes, they have comprehended and expressed their essay writing queries (interpretation); identified and examined arguments, reasons and claims (analysis); identified elements of claims, estimated alternatives, and drawn reasonable conclusions in writing their argumentative essays (inference). In the same manner, they also assessed the credibility of claims and quality of arguments made in their conclusions (evaluation); stated results, justified procedures, and presented arguments (explanation), and consciously monitored and corrected their writing activity (self-regulation) in producing argumentative essays. Thus, the students have developed their critical thinking skills by using inquiry-based argumentative writing instruction.

In inquiry-based writing instruction, the students discover writing topics; explore information on their topics; explain their discoveries, and elaborate their thinking through transforming their understanding into their real life situations. Thus, when the students came up through this distinct process in manipulating such tasks, their critical thinking skills enhance because this process develops the students’ abilities to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate various thoughts. Using inquiry-based learning in argumentative writing class enhance the students’ argumentative essay writing performance since the method enables them to discover their own writing topics, generate ideas, gather and evaluate information, write up drafts with evidences, discuss with colleagues and subject area experts, and produce sound argumentative essays.

When the students use inquiry-based learning in argumentative essay writing lessons, they generate and organize ideas through investigation and discussion, and later produce sound written texts. The students develop reasoning skills, collaborative working, and make connections to real life experiences when they learn through inquiry-based learning. The critical thinking skills that the EFL students develop through the inquiry-based writing instruction are relevant to their future working environment to write convincing texts and critically evaluate what other individuals have written. The abilities to interpret, analyze, evaluate, infer, explain, and self-regulate help the university students to be lifelong learners, and to be competitive enough in their future working life.

Therefore, inquiry-based writing instruction is suggested as a means to improve EFL students’ critical thinking skills because the method incorporates activity oriented learning, logical arguments, and collaboration. This is to imply the need to promote inquiry-based learning which is based on a discovery approach that mostly involve students in seeking, collecting, analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating information based on students’ interest. It is because using inquiry-based learning in writing classes promotes students’ academic performance and makes students active, problem solver, autonomous, and lifelong learners. Accordingly, EFL teachers should use inquiry-based learning in their language classrooms in order to develop students’ critical thinking skills. Similarly, teaching material developers need to consider the inquiry-based learning principles in developing language teaching materials so that students’ improve their critical thinking skills. Students should also use the inquiry-based learning techniques to produce effective argumentative texts, to be critical thinkers, and become lifelong learners.

Finally, the number of participants and the time given to the intervention were relatively small. However, it does not mean that the findings of the study are not representative since the selected participants have similarities with other students. In addition, it does not mean that the intervention is completely inadequate since the students practiced the whole inquiry process repeatedly. It is to mean that the findings of the study would have been more representatives and convincing if a greater number of participants had been included, and more time to the intervention had been used in the study. As a result, such future exploration would have contributed to the current study and is certainly an area ripe for future research. Furthermore, future studies should be also conducted on the effects of using inquiry-based learning on students’ speaking, reading, and listening skills to widen the use of inquiry-based learning in EFL instruction.

Availability of data and materials

Please contact corresponding author for data requests.

Abbreviations

English as a Foreign Language

Analysis of Variance

Statistical Package for Social Sciences

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Applying ChatGPT to tackle the side effects of personal learning environments from learner and learning perspective: An interview of experts in higher education

Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Methodology, Writing – original draft

* E-mail: [email protected] (XSX); [email protected] (RZ)

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  • XiaoShu Xu, 
  • XiBing Wang, 
  • YunFeng Zhang, 

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Table 1

This paper investigates the capacity of ChatGPT, an advanced language model created by OpenAI, to mitigate the side effects encountered by learners in Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) within higher education. A series of semi-structured interviews were conducted with six professors and three Information and Communication Technology (ICT) experts. Employing thematic analysis, the interview data were assessed, revealing that the side effects stemming from the learner and learning perspectives could be primarily categorized into cognitive, non-cognitive, and metacognitive challenges. The findings of the thematic analysis indicate that, from a cognitive standpoint, ChatGPT can generate relevant and trustworthy information, furnish personalized learning resources, and facilitate interdisciplinary learning to fully actualize learners’ potential. Moreover, ChatGPT can aid learners in cultivating non-cognitive skills, including motivation, perseverance, self-regulation, and self-efficacy, as well as metacognitive abilities such as self-determination, self-efficacy, and self-regulation, by providing tailored feedback, fostering creativity, and stimulating critical thinking activities. This study offers valuable insights for integrating artificial intelligence technologies to unleash the full potential of PLEs in higher education.

Citation: Xu X, Wang X, Zhang Y, Zheng R (2024) Applying ChatGPT to tackle the side effects of personal learning environments from learner and learning perspective: An interview of experts in higher education. PLoS ONE 19(1): e0295646. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0295646

Editor: Anastassia Zabrodskaja, Tallinn University: Tallinna Ulikool, ESTONIA

Received: April 26, 2023; Accepted: November 23, 2023; Published: January 3, 2024

Copyright: © 2024 Xu et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Data Availability: The dataset is available at the following DOI: 10.6084/m9.figshare.22303441 .

Funding: The author(s) received funding from the National Social Science Foundation of China for Education General Program (BGA210054) for this work. The First Author Xiaoshu Xu received this funding.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

1. Introduction

Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) is an educational approach that enables students to utilize social media to enhance self-regulated learning in both formal and informal pedagogical settings [ 1 , 2 ]. The purpose of PLEs is to equip students with the ability to organize the resources, social interactions, and information produced in the teaching-learning process [ 3 , 4 ]. Research has found that there is a correlation between the use of PLEs and improved student autonomy and decision-making capacity, which can reduce reservations in performing tasks [ 5 ]. Additionally, self-efficacy, a malleable element [ 6 ], can be enhanced over time through the use of virtual or traditional tools and strategies integrated into PLEs.

However, the development and implementation of PLEs can result in unintended negative consequences, referred to as side effects. These side effects can have an impact on both the learners and the learning process, leading to reduced learning outcomes or hindering the achievement of educational goals. Recent literature has identified various forms of side effects in education, including distractions, information overload, and reduced interaction between learners and teachers caused by the use of technology in the classroom [ 7 , 8 ]. Similarly, challenges related to privacy, data security, and learner autonomy can arise from the implementation of PLEs [ 9 , 10 ]. Pedagogical approaches can also create side effects, such as anxiety, stress, and academic disengagement caused by the use of high-stakes testing or competitive grading systems[ 11 , 12 ].

To mitigate the potential side effects of PLEs, we aim to explore how ChatGPT, a language model that provides personalized responses to learners, can address the potential side effects of PLEs from the learner and learning perspective. We plan to conduct interviews with experts in higher education to discuss the potential side effects of PLEs, the benefits of using ChatGPT, and how it can enhance the learning experience. By doing so, we hope to provide insights into how AI technologies such as ChatGPT can be leveraged to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of PLEs while minimizing potential side effects.

1.1 Concept and development of Personal Learning Environments (PLEs)

Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) provide learners with the ability to create and share their own content, work collaboratively with others, and access resources from anywhere and at any time through incorporating different digital tools and resources, such as social media, blogs, wikis, and other web-based applications. PLEs offer a flexible and dynamic learning experience that can be tailored to suit the needs and interests of individual learners, resulting in increased engagement and improved learning outcomes. According to Castañeda’s [ 13 ] analysis of the PLE literature published during the period 2010–2020, two critical areas of research have emerged: pedagogical practices and self-regulated learning. The notion of PLEs has been linked with the creation of innovative learning models that challenge traditional educational structures and prioritize the learner, granting greater autonomy and placing them at the center of the learning process. In this regard, teachers are viewed as facilitators and guides. Meanwhile, research on self-regulated learning suggests that PLEs is primarily examined from a pedagogical perspective, albeit with subtle variations. Moreover, digital tools, and Web 2.0 services are considered as instruments for learners to manage their learning and enhance cognitive skills associated with self-regulated learning.

1.2 Side effects of PLE in higher education from a learner and learning perspective

Studying the side effects of education is crucial for providing learners with an optimal educational experience. Metcalf [ 14 ] research suggests that understanding the potential negative consequences of educational interventions can help educators and policymakers make informed decisions about the design and implementation of educational programs. In terms of the side effects of PLEs, one of the primary challenges identified is the integration of PLEs with formal learning management systems (LMS). This challenge arises due to the differences in structure and functionality between PLEs and LMSs, which may lead to issues with interoperability and data exchange [ 1 ]. Kop and Hill [ 15 ] identified the gap between individuals with access to digital technologies and those without, as well as the quality and reliability of the information available within PLEs. Fiedler and Väljataga [ 16 ] highlighted the challenge as the lack of a clear and consistent definition of PLEs. Blaschke [ 17 ] discussed the challenge of incorporating social media into existing formal educational systems. Wilson et al. [ 18 ] addressed the issue of control and ownership of learning within PLEs. While PLEs aim to empower learners by giving them control over their learning experience, this may conflict with traditional educational systems, where control is often held by institutions and educators.

From the learner and learning perspective, this research reviewed the side effects and challenges of PLEs, and summarized them into the following three categories: cognitive skills, non-cognitive skills, and meta-cognitive skills. Regarding cognitive skills, learners require sufficient digital literacy to use PLEs effectively. For instance, Lee and Meina [ 19 ] and Attwell [ 20 ] suggest that keeping up with new technologies and developing necessary digital literacy skills can be difficult for learners due to the fast pace of technological change. Furthermore, the abundance of information available online can be overwhelming, making it challenging for learners to distinguish credible sources and effectively utilize digital tools [ 1 , 15 ].

In terms of non-cognitive skills, it includes motivation, perseverance, self-regulation, and self-efficacy. According to Kim [ 21 ], learners’ motivation and emotions are critical factors for success in PLEs. However, effectively measuring and utilizing non-cognitive skills in PLEs remains a challenge. Routledge, Humphries and Kosse [ 22 , 23 ] notes that non-cognitive skills are difficult to measure and develop, which poses a challenge to their effective utilization in PLEs.

As for meta-cognitive skills, it includes self-determination, self-efficacy, and self-regulation, which involves setting personal learning goals, selecting and organizing resources, and evaluating their learning outcomes. Learners who lack these skills may face difficulties in managing their PLEs effectively [ 16 ]. Rodman [ 24 ] suggest that PLEs require learners to be proactive in their learning, taking ownership of their learning outcomes. Developing learners’ self-efficacy is another critical challenge in PLEs. Jeske et al. [ 25 ] argue that learners must feel confident in their abilities to succeed in a personalized learning environment. Lastly, learner self-regulation and management of Web 2.0 tools pose challenges in the development and implementation of PLEs. Lim and Newby [ 26 ] highlight the importance of learners’ self-regulation in the effective use of Web 2.0 tools, emphasizing the need for learners to manage their online learning activities effectively.

To succeed in PLEs, learners need to have a range of cognitive, non-cognitive, and meta-cognitive skills. While digital literacy, motivation, self-regulation, and self-efficacy are important for success, developing and utilizing these skills effectively can be challenging for both learners and educators.

The study received approval from the Wenzhou University Review Board, bearing the approval number IORG/IRB #202303. For data collection, online semi-structured interviews were carried out during 20–27 February, 2023, utilizing the Tencent Conference platform. The interviews were conducted in English and lasted between 25 to 30 minutes. Following their participation, each interviewee was sent a letter of appreciation acknowledging their valuable contribution. Throughout the research, the team was deeply conscious of ethical standards and was committed to upholding them. Before proceeding with interviews, written informed consent was secured from every participant via email, reflecting our commitment to respecting their choices. Strict confidentiality was maintained regarding the participants’ information, ensuring their anonymity and privacy. Their data was handled with utmost discretion, and their identities were never mentioned in any resulting publications or reports.

The interview questions were designed to explore the potential of ChatGPT in addressing the side effects of PLEs from the perspectives of the learner and learning. The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed for further analysis. The open-ended nature of the questions allowed participants to provide detailed responses based on their expertise and experience. After the interview, all the interviewees would receive a thank-you letter for their participation and contribution to the study. Our adherence to these ethical standards underscored our commitment to conducting the study with respect and integrity.

Nonetheless, it is plausible to anticipate that the modest sample size might influence the comprehensive comprehension of the research inquiry. Simultaneously, relying solely on expert interview methodology could circumscribe the scope and richness of the information amassed. In subsequent investigations, scholars might contemplate employing supplementary data collection techniques, such as questionnaires or observations, to garner a more holistic understanding of learners’ experiences with PLEs and ChatGPT.

2.1 Participants

The experts were chosen using a purposive sampling method, where individuals with relevant expertise and experience were identified and invited to participate in the study. Selection criteria were pre-defined to ensure that only participants with the necessary knowledge and experience were included. The selection criteria for the ICT expert interviewees and higher education professor interviewees are as follow ( Table 1 ):

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For this study, a total of nine experts were selected, comprising of three ICT experts and six higher education professors. The ICT experts had a considerable amount of experience in platform development, with 10–20 years of experience, aged between 40–50, and two of them held Ph.Ds. and one held MA in relevant fields. They were from various higher education institutions in different parts of China, with two being male and one female. On the other hand, the six higher education professors had a clear understanding of PLEs, with 5–20 years of teaching experience, and were between the ages of 35–55. Four of them held PhD degrees and two had master degrees. Four of them were females. Two of them were lecturers, another two were associate professors, and the rest two were professors. All of them had experience in teaching using Learning Management Systems (LMS), and three of them had developed PLE platforms that had been operational for 5–8 years (see Table 2 ).

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2.2 Research instrument

The research instrument used for this study was an interview using ten open-ended interview questions (see S1 Appendix ). The questions aimed to gather data on the experts’ understanding of PLE and ChatGPT, their predictions on the application of ChatGPT to PLE, their experience with challenges in implementing PLEs in higher education, and their suggestions on using ChatGPT to address the side effects of PLE from learner and learning perspectives.

The interview questions were divided into three categories. The first set (Questions 1–3) aimed to understand the experts’ definitions of PLE, their experience with PLE platforms, and their familiarity with ChatGPT. The second set (Questions 4–5) focused on the potential benefits and challenges of incorporating ChatGPT in PLEs, as well as the effectiveness of ChatGPT in addressing the side effects of PLEs. The third set (Questions 6–7) explored the experts’ experience with the challenges of PLE implementation in higher education, including the challenges encountered by all stakeholders. Finally, Questions 8–10 were open-ended, asking the experts to provide suggestions on how to use ChatGPT to develop learners’ cognitive, non-cognitive, and metacognitive skills and support them in PLEs. The interview questions were reviewed by two experts in the field of Personal Learning Environments to assess their relevance, clarity, simplicity, and comprehensibility.

3. Results and data analysis

Thematic analysis is a flexible and systematic approach that can be used for a variety of research questions and data types, including interview transcripts. The method provides a rigorous and comprehensive understanding of the data, allowing researchers to identify important patterns and themes that may not be immediately apparent [ 27 ]. In order to analyze the data gathered from the interviews, two researchers were enlisted to participate in the coding process, adhering to the methodology put forth by Elo and Kyngäs [ 28 ]. The initial step involved the first author reviewing all the textual content and generating a comprehensive list of preliminary codes. These codes were subsequently organized into various themes. The first and second authors then convened to discuss and refine the codes and themes, resulting in some themes being reshaped. The two researchers conducted their own separate thematic analysis, referencing the established list of codes and themes. Once all the codes and themes were identified by both researchers, an extensive comparison and discussion ensued. Definitions were assigned to all codes, while some themes were reclassified. The researchers then conducted a second round of coding based on the revised themes. Following subsequent deliberation, the two researchers were able to identify over 90% of similar themes, codes, and references (refer to Table 3 ).

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https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0295646.t003

3.1 The first set of interview questions

The responses from the first set of questions (Questions 1–3) provide valuable insights into the experts’ understanding of Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) and ChatGPT. All three experts agreed that PLEs were digital environments that empowered learners to take charge of their learning and customize their learning experiences according to their preferences and needs. Similarly, the experts concurred that ChatGPT was a conversational AI platform that could be seamlessly integrated into PLEs to offer learners personalized and timely feedback and support. For instance, expert interviewee 2 said:

“When you bring Chat into PLEs, it can interact with learners, answer their questions, and guide them through their learning. Like having a digital tutor 24/7”.

All three experts were familiar with ChatGPT technology and have used it in the development of PLEs. They agreed that ChatGPT could be an effective way to provide learners with personalized and timely feedback and support to enhance their Self-directed Learning and digital literacy skills. For example, in answering question 2, expert interviewee 3 mentioned that:

“I’ve seen how PLEs can help students take control of their learning, find resources and digital tools that fit their needs, and engage more deeply with the material. It’s been very rewarding to see students become more active and self-directed in their learning.”

Additionally, they emphasized the importance of designing ChatGPT to be engaging and user-friendly to maximize its effectiveness.

Regarding the six professors who were interviewed, five of them described PLEs as digital environments that enable learners to personalize their learning experiences and access a broad range of digital resources and tools. This definition aligns with the prevailing understanding of PLEs within the field of education. For instance, in answering question 2, professor interviewee 3 pointed out that:

“They have the freedom to choose the digital resources and tools that best suit their learning styles and preferences. This customization empowers them to take ownership of their education and fosters a sense of responsibility for their learning outcomes.”

The interviewees also recognized the potential of PLEs to increase learners’ engagement and motivation, which were crucial factors in the learning process. Two professors highlighted the possibility of potential realization education with the development of PLEs.

In terms of their familiarity with ChatGPT, four professor interviewees reported having plenty of experience in using ChatGPT and the rest two reported had tried it in academic research. All experts recognized the potential benefits of incorporating ChatGPT in PLEs. They highlighted its ability to provide learners with personalized and timely feedback, support, and guidance.

However, two experts also raised concerns about the challenges of ensuring the accuracy and appropriateness of the feedback provided by ChatGPT. Three of them emphasized the importance of designing conversational AI to be engaging and user-friendly to maximize its effectiveness. For instance, expert interviewee 1 said:

“Making it engaging and user-friendly can truly amplify its effectiveness. You want to make sure that learners find it easy to interact with and feel comfortable asking questions. That’s when the real learning happens.”

3.2 The second set of questions

3.2.1 question 4: do you think there is a possibility to incorporate chatgpt technology into ples.

Three ICT experts explained the way to incorporate ChatGPT into PLEs from two perspectives, including system design and interface standpoint. From the system design perspective, expert interviewee 2 said:

“To effectively integrate ChatGPT technology into PLEs, a rigorous system design approach is necessary to ensure that performance and user experience are not compromised. This involves conducting a thorough analysis and evaluation of both the PLEs and ChatGPT technology to identify any potential compatibility issues that may arise.”

From the interface standpoint, expert interviewee 1 said:

“In order to smoothly incorporate ChatGPT technology, it’s essential to create a user-friendly interface design. One approach is to develop a dedicated ChatGPT plugin that can be integrated with the PLE interface…… The plugin provides a seamless and easily accessible interface for learners to engage with ChatGPT.”

Expert interviewee 3 added the answer from users’ perspective:

“In order to ensure that the feedback and support provided are relevant and meaningful, the interface design must take into account the users’ learning objectives and the context of the learning activity. It can maximize the effectiveness of the feedback and support provided, and enhance the overall learning experience.”

The six professors who were interviewed had different opinions regarding the use of ChatGPT in PLEs. Half of them believed that this technology could be effectively integrated into PLEs, providing personalized feedback and support for learners and creating formative assessments (e.g., quizzes or short writing tasks), which would enhance the quality of learning and promote a more efficient and effective learning environment.

However, the other three expressed concerns about the potential loss of personal interaction and engagement between students and instructors, which were crucial for effective learning. They also highlighted that the integration process could be complex and time-consuming, requiring significant resources and technical expertise. Additionally, there were concerns about the quality and accuracy of the feedback provided by ChatGPT, which could negatively impact learning outcomes. The response emphasized the importance of carefully evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of using ChatGPT in PLEs before deciding to integrate this technology.

3.2.2 Question 5: In your opinion, what are the benefits of incorporating ChatGPT technology into PLEs?

Three ICT experts indicated the benefits from three perspectives, including increased personalization, more flexibility and better quality of learning material, and user-friendly interface. For instance, expert interviewee 1 said:

“An important benefit of ChatGPT is its ability to provide customized support and feedback to learners, and it can improve the learning process to be more effective and efficient. Integrating ChatGPT into PLEs can give learners timely feedback and fully explore conversational AI features. Learners can improve their weak areas and be more engaged in the interactive learning platform. They will finally be more successful.”

Expert interviewee 2 said:

“Apply ChatGPT to PLEs can increase flexibility in accessing learning materials, and allow learners to learn at their own pace. This flexibility facilitates learners to be more engaged in learning, and it will increase student retention and success.”

Expert interviewee 3 said:

“The creation of a specialized ChatGPT plugin can guarantee a smooth incorporation with the PLEs interface. This can offer learners a user-friendly and straightforward platform, and they will be more engaged with the technology.”

The six professor interviewees expressed their expectations and concerns on this question. Most of them were positive about the benefits, such as efficient collaborative learning, improved learning engagement, better outcome, increased learning motivation, and increased efficiency of teaching and learning. For instance, professor interviewee 2 said:

“ChatGPT can significantly enhance student engagement. It offers them immediate personalized feedback and support, and assists them to find out their strengths and weaknesses, and, in turn, improve their learning achievements.”

Professor interviewee 5 said:

“The integration of ChatGPT technology into PLEs can enhance learning motivation. It can facilitate collaborative learning by supporting group discussions, brainstorming sessions, and project work. It can act as a mediator, offering suggestions, guiding discussions, and helping learners work together effectively.”

Professor interviewee 6 said:

“ChatGPT technology can lead to increased learning efficiency. It can decrease the workload for instructors. As a result, instructors can devote more time to personalized teaching methods. This can improve the overall quality of education.”

3.3 The third set of questions

3.3.1 question 6: have you experienced any challenges when implementing ples in higher education if so, can you describe them.

The three ICT experts mentioned several challenges that need to be addressed when implementing PLEs in higher education. Firstly, they acknowledged the potential resistance to change from faculty and students accustomed to traditional classroom settings. Secondly, integration issues with existing university systems could arise, requiring careful planning and coordination. Thirdly, ensuring that PLEs are effective in promoting student learning and engagement is crucial. The experts emphasized the importance of designing a platform that can meet diverse student needs and provides personalized support. Additionally, there may be challenges in making the platform accessible to all students, including those with disabilities or limited technology access. Overall, the experts highlighted the need for careful planning and stakeholder engagement to ensure successful implementation of PLEs in higher education.

The six professor interviewees indicated the challenges from three perspectives, including ICT literacy, technology accessibility, the lack of training, and ethical issues. For instance, professor interviewee 3 said:

“One of the primary challenges to successful integration is the varying levels of ICT skills among students and faculty. This can negatively impact the platform’s efficacy. So, it is critical to offer training and support to all users. We have to ensure that all of them are comfortable and when using the platform.”

Professor interviewee 2 further pointed out that:

“some students may lack consistent access to the necessary technology, including computers and reliable internet access. This digital divide can make it difficult for these students to fully participate in a PLE.”

Professor interviewee 4 said:

“Lack of resources or training for faculty members will hinder the quality of the learning experience for students. It is important to offer appropriate support and training to ensure the successful implementation and utilization of PLEs.”

Professor interviewee 1 added:

“It’s also important to continuously update the training as the technology evolves and as we gain more insights into effective teaching and learning strategies in digital environments. However, developing and providing this training requires a significant investment of time and resources, which can be a challenge in itself.”

3.3.2 Question 7: What do you think are the challenges that all stakeholders, including students, instructors, and administrators, face when implementing PLEs in higher education?

All three ICT experts and the six professor interviewees expressed similar opinions regarding the challenges of implementing PLEs in higher education. They identified the challenge of designing a platform that catered to the diverse needs of students and provided personalized support and feedback as the most significant challenge. They emphasized the importance of careful planning and design to ensure that the platform was accessible and inclusive for all students, including those with disabilities or limited technology access. Additionally, they highlighted the importance of providing adequate training and support for instructors to effectively incorporate PLEs into their teaching practice, which may require additional resources and professional development.

The ICT expert interviewees pointed out that administrators may face challenges with integrating the PLE with existing university systems and technologies, which can cause technical difficulties and limit access to certain resources. They may also face challenges with securing funding and resources to support the implementation and ongoing maintenance of the PLE. For instance, expert interviewee 2 pointed out:

“One of the challenges that administrators may encounter is the funding and resource allocation. The implementation of PLEs require significant investments in technology and infrastructure, which may be costly. And, it also requires changes in policies and procedures to support PLEs.”

The professor interviewees highlighted that students may face challenges with adjusting to a new learning environment and may require additional support and guidance to effectively use the PLE. They may also face challenges with accessibility and may require accommodations for disabilities or limited access to technology.

Besides, professor interviewees 3 and 5 highlighted the challenges of shifting educational philology among teachers and learners, from score-oriented to ability building. For instance, interview 3 said:

“In order to successfully integrate PLEs into the classroom, teachers may need to adjust their teaching roles from being traditional lecturers to facilitators of learning. This shift may require additional training and support to ensure that teachers feel confident and comfortable in their new role.”

Interview 5 said:

“In PLEs, students may encounter difficulties adjusting to the new learning approach, particularly if they are accustomed to conventional classroom settings. They may require additional assistance to cultivate the necessary abilities to excel in such an environment, including time management, self-motivation, and self-directed learning.”

In terms of administrators, the professor interviewees mainly pointed out the following three challenges, including: infrastructure and technical support, that is administrators need to ensure that the institution has the necessary technical infrastructure to support the implementation of PLEs. This includes reliable internet access and user-friendly platforms; second, professor interviewee 4 and 5 mentioned the challenge of resource allocation, which means when implementing PLEs, administrators must strategically allocate resources to guarantee the effective integration of PLEs in higher education; third, professor interviewee 3 and 6 highlighed the data privacy and security issue. professor interviewee 3 said:

“Protecting student data and ensuring privacy and security are crucial considerations when implementing PLEs. Administrators must address potential risks and ensure compliance with data protection regulations.”

3.4 The fourth set of question

3.4.1 question 8: how can chatgpt be used to address the challenges learners face in keeping up with technological advancements and effectively using digital tools to find credible sources of information, particularly in relation to learners’ digital literacy skills.

Two ICT experts explained that ChatGPT could be used to address learners’ digital literacy challenges by providing real-time support and guidance as they navigate digital tools and search for credible sources of information. The conversational AI capabilities of ChatGPT allow it to understand learners’ queries and provide personalized feedback, recommendations, and resources based on their individual needs and learning preferences. Expert interviewee 3 pointed out that:

“ChatGPT can suggest various online courses, tutorials, and other resources to help learners enhance their digital literacy skills and keep pace with the latest technological advancements.”
“The integration of ChatGPT technology in PLEs enables students to receive timely assistance, it also direct them in using digital tools to find trustworthy sources of information. I believe it can boost their digital literacy abilities and improve their overall learning journey.”

In terms of the professor interviewees, four of them agreed that ChatGPT could be a valuable tool in addressing the challenges learners face in keeping up with technological advancements and effectively using digital tools to find credible sources of information. By leveraging ChatGPT’s conversational AI capabilities, students can receive real-time feedback and support to help them navigate the complexities of digital literacy. For example, professor interviewee 1 said:

“So, with ChatGPT, students can get help in figuring out what sources of information are legit, learn how to check if stuff on the internet is trustworthy, and generally get better at using technology.”

The other two professor interviewees pointed out that ChatGPT can be integrated into PLEs to provide a personalized learning experience that adapts to the individual needs and abilities of each student, helping to promote student engagement and success in the digital age. For instance, professor interviewees 6 said:

“With ChatGPT, it’s like having your own personal research assistant! It can analyze your search terms and suggest relevant sources of information, as well as help you figure out if they’re trustworthy or not. Pretty cool, right?”

Professor interviewee 3 added that ChatGPT can help develop learners’ critical thinking skills:

“ChatGPT can engage students in discussions about evaluating online sources for credibility. By asking critical questions and guiding learners through the process of source evaluation, it promotes critical thinking skill.”

Finally, professor interviewee 4 raised the issue of multimodal learning. He said:

“ChatGPT can integrate multimedia content, such as videos and images, to enhance learners’ understanding of digital tools and information sourcing processes.”

3.4.2 Question 9: How can ChatGPT be used to develop non-cognitive skills such as motivation, perseverance, self-regulation, and self-efficacy in learners using PLEs?

Expert interviewees 1 and 3 explained that ChatGPT can provide learners with timely and targeted feedback on their progress, helping them to stay motivated and engaged with their learning. Additionally, ChatGPT can help learners to develop self-regulation skills by providing them with tools and resources to help them manage their time, track their progress, and stay on task. For istance, expert interviewee 2 said:

“We could totally hook up PLE with AI and machine learning algorithms . This would let the system analyze how each student learns and behaves , and pinpoint where they might struggle with motivation , self-regulation , or feeling confident in themselves . ” And he further explained: “So, basically , the system could look at how each student learns and behaves, and then give them specific help and advice to improve in areas where they might be struggling.”

Three of the professor interviewees stated that ChatGPT technology can be beneficial in fostering non-cognitive skills like motivation, self-regulation, perseverance, and self-efficacy in learners who use PLEs. They explained that the personalized feedback and support provided by ChatGPT could assist students in setting and achieving goals, reflecting on their learning progress, and developing self-efficacy. Furthermore, the real-time assistance and guidance offered by ChatGPT could help students overcome challenges and develop problem-solving skills and perseverance. ChatGPT could also promote self-regulation by empowering students to take ownership of their learning and make informed decisions about their educational journey.

Professor interviewee 2 pointed out the possibility to encourage peer-to-peer interaction through ChatGPT:

“When students team up with their classmates using ChatGPT, they can acquire critical social abilities, such as effective communication, collaborative work, and empathy. By creating connections with others in their learning circle, students can also foster a sense of belonging and eagerness to take part more actively in their education.”

Professor interviewee 1 suggested incorporating ChatGPT as a tool for self-reflection and goal-setting:

“If students use ChatGPT often, they can keep an eye on how they’re doing and see if they’re getting closer to their goals. This can help them become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and learn how to take charge of their own learning journey.”

3.4.3 Question 10: How can ChatGPT be used to develop metacognitive skills such as self-determination, self-efficacy, and self-regulation in learners using PLEs, particularly in terms of their management of Web 2.0 tools and taking an active role in their learning outcomes?

For this question, all the three ICT experts suggested that ChatGPT could be a valuable tool in helping learners develop metacognitive skills by providing personalized feedback and support that helps them take an active role in their learning. For instance, expert interviewee 2 said:

“One way to do this is by incorporating ChatGPT into PLEs as a virtual learning assistant that guides learners through the process of managing Web 2.0 tools. It can help them develop the skills they need to become effective digital learners.”
“ChatGPT can be programmed to provide feedback and guidance on the use of different digital tools and resources. It can help learners to develop the skills they need to use these tools effectively. It can also be used to encourage them to take an active role in their learning, for example, by setting goals, monitoring their progress, and providing feedback on their performance.”

Besides, expert interviewee 1 pointed out that ChatGPT could be programmed to prompt learners to reflect on their learning experiences and evaluate their own progress, helping them to develop a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses as learners.

Moreover, expert 2 and 3 pointed out that ChatGPT can be programmed to ask students reflective questions about their learning process and progress, such as "What have you learned so far?", "What strategies have you used to complete this task?", or "What can you do differently next time?". By encouraging students to think critically about their learning experiences, ChatGPT can help them develop self-awareness and metacognitive skills.

Finally, as expert interviewee 1 suggested, ChatGPT could be integrated with other digital tools and resources, such as online learning modules, quizzes, and interactive simulations, to provide students with opportunities for self-directed learning and exploration. By giving students more control over their learning experiences, ChatGPT can help them develop self-efficacy and motivation to learn.

As for educator interviewees, two of them suggested that ChatGPT could be used to support the development of metacognitive skills in learners using PLEs by providing a personalized and interactive learning experience. They explained that with ChatGPT, learners could actively engage with the platform and take control of their own learning process. This can be particularly helpful for developing skills related to self-determination, self-efficacy, and self-regulation, as learners can set their own learning goals and monitor their progress toward achieving them. Another two educator interviewees pointed out that ChatGPT could provide learners with guidance and support in using Web 2.0 tools effectively and efficiently. Through its natural language processing capabilities, ChatGPT could help learners identify credible sources of information and evaluate the quality of the content they encounter. This can help learners develop critical thinking skills and become more discerning consumers of digital media.

Educator interviewee 4 said:

“ChatGPT can help learners stay on track and provide feedback and encouragement throughout the learning process.”

He further explained, “this can help learners develop a sense of ownership over their learning and build confidence in their ability to achieve their goals . ”

Moreover, Educator interviewee 2 and 5 suggested, ChatGPT could facilitate peer-to-peer learning and collaboration, by connecting students with similar interests and goals, and providing opportunities for them to share knowledge and resources. Through fostering a sense of community and social support, ChatGPT can help students develop social and emotional skills, such as empathy, communication, and teamwork.

4. Discussion

Based on the analysis of the interview data, learners using PLEs face challenges such as the overwhelming amount of information available online and the need for digital literacy skills to use PLEs effectively. Expert interviewee 2 suggests that ChatGPT can address these challenges by offering learners customized learning materials and instantly presenting relevant and credible information. Simultaneously, research emphasizes the value of proficient information management within PLEs [ 29 ]. As expert interviewee 3 notes, ChatGPT can fulfill this demand by supplying appropriate information to its users.

Moreover, prior research underscores the importance of digital literacy skills in online learning environments [ 30 , 31 ]. This mirrors challenges faced by learners in PLEs, who require substantial digital literacy to utilize the platform optimally. Expert interviewee 3 indicated that ChatGPT can recommend tutorials and additional materials to bolster learners’ digital literacy, which resonates with findings from [ 19 , 25 , 26 ], suggesting that ChatGPT’s tailored learning resources can enhance digital literacy.

As for non-cognitive skills in applying PLEs, motivation, perseverance, self-regulation, and self-efficacy are proved to be crucial for learners to succeed in online learning [ 32 , 33 ]. Studies have emphasized the significance of these skills in online learning environment [ 21 , 34 , 35 ]. As the three professor interviewees pointed out that ChatGPT, through personalized feedback and real-time assistance, could enhance learners’ non-cognitive skills like motivation and self-efficacy in PLEs, aiding in goal-setting and overcoming challenges. Meanwhile, Nadira et al. [ 34 ] suggested that ChatGPT can offer motivational messages and tips to help learners stay motivated and persevere through challenging learning tasks [ 34 ].

In terms of metacognitive skills, setting individual learning objectives, resource management, and evaluating outcomes are regarded as crucial for success in PLEs [ 16 ]. This mirrors Kim’s [ 36 ] observation that reflection allows students to be more attuned metacognitively to their cognitive activities, promotes profound comprehension, enables monitoring of acquired knowledge, values the learning journey, and assesses both the learning methodology and students’ performance [ 36 ]. Besides, Erdogan [ 37 ] found that combining cooperative learning with reflective thinking activities can bolster students’ critical and metacognitive skills [ 37 ]. Similarly, as pointed out by Educator interviewees 2 and 5, ChatGPT, by promoting a community feel via peer-to-peer learning, can aid in developing learners’ socio-emotional capabilities such as empathy, clear communication, and collaborative teamwork. Moreover, ChatGPT can guide learners in pinpointing trustworthy information sources and assessing content quality, thus sharpening their critical thinking and making them judicious digital media consumers.

Concerning the roles that teachers or instructors assume in the evolution and application of PLEs in higher education, their primary transition should be from traditional "knowledge deliverers" to "learning facilitators/coaches". They must recognize the paradigm shift towards PLEs in higher education [ 38 ] and equip themselves with foundational digital skills, the new educational philosophy [ 39 ] (e.g., competence-based learning) and new pedagogical designs, updated Information and Communication Technology (ICT) [ 40 ], ensuring they can adeptly support learners in the development of PLEs.

In summary, ChatGPT can be a useful tool to overcome the obstacles encountered by learners in PLEs, and improve their success in digital learning environments. ChatGPT offers personalized resources and feedback, which can aid learners in coping with information overload, enhance their digital literacy, and cultivate critical non-cognitive and metacognitive skills.

5. Conclusion and future research

This research reviewed the literature and summarized some of the side effects of PLEs when implemented in the higher education. From the learner and learning perspective, the challenges were categoried into three types, including cognitive, non-cognitive and meta-cognitive. Expert interview was conducted to tackle these challenges. The analysis of expert interviews reveals the potential of ChatGPT in addressing challenges faced by learners using PLEs, particularly in terms of digital literacy and information management. ChatGPT’s real-time support and guidance offer personalized feedback, recommendations, and resources tailored to individual needs and preferences. In terms of non-cognitive skill development, ChatGPT can enhance motivation, perseverance, self-regulation, and self-efficacy in PLE users by providing timely feedback, promoting goal-setting, and encouraging self-reflection. Moreover, it fosters peer-to-peer interaction, building critical social skills and a sense of belonging among learners. Regarding metacognitive skills, ChatGPT assists learners in developing self-determination, self-efficacy, and self-regulation by offering personalized feedback, goal monitoring, and guidance in managing Web 2.0 tool. Furthermore, it supports critical thinking, information evaluation, and effective digital media consumption.

In conclusion, ChatGPT holds significant promise in overcoming challenges faced by learners in PLEs, such as information overload, digital literacy, and the development of non-cognitive and metacognitive skills. Its personalized approach and conversational AI capabilities make it a valuable tool for enhancing learner success in digital learning environments.

This study presents certain limitations: initially, the sample comprised only three ICT experts and six professors, possibly not encapsulating the viewpoints of other essential stakeholders in higher education like teachers and students. Additionally, the semi-structured interview format depended on participants’ self-disclosures, potentially introducing biases and inaccuracies in their recollections and perceptions.

Regarding forthcoming studies, it’s essential to recognize that ChatGPT is an emerging technology with its capabilities continually evolving. As a result, the general understanding of ChatGPT might not be exhaustive. Upcoming research might lean on experimental approaches and surveys to more deeply probe the extent to which ChatGPT can bolster areas like learners’ digital literacy, non-cognitive facets, and metacognitive capabilities.

Supporting information

S1 appendix. interview questions..

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0295646.s001

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Creative learning environments in education—A systematic literature review

Profile image of Penny Hay

2013, Thinking Skills and Creativity

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Improving Schools

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This article is based on a systematic review of educational research, policy and professional literature relating to creative environments for learning in schools. Despite the search yielding 210 documents, comparatively few empirical studies were published between 2005 and 2011 that addressed the review objectives. Only 18 studies included in the review investigated the impact of creativity on learners. There was, however, some evidence for the impact of creative learning environments on pupil attainment, confidence, resilience, motivation, problem-solving, interpersonal skills and school attendance. These findings have implications for policy, practice and research internationally.

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Creativity is enjoying a resurgence of interest in the education systems of many developed countries. The core of this is the recognition that creativity, in its broadest sense that encompasses divergent thinking, problem-solving, and related abilities is a core skill in the 21st century. While there is a great deal of rigorous, empirical research that underpins creative teaching and learning, there remains much rhetoric, myth, and misconception that militates against efforts to embed creativity in the modern classroom. In this chapter, we first explore some of the general beliefs that frequently interfere with efforts to broaden and systematise the understanding of creativity. We also examine specific evidence from teachers, suggesting that this practitioner cohort is favourably primed and disposed to teach both for and with creativity. In the literature of creative education, we identify and address a significant gap relating to developmental models of creativity. Finally, we discuss some of the nuances of creativity in school settings, offering specific advice for school teachers who are at the coal-face of creative education.

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In the 21st century, our global community is changing to increasingly value creativity and innovation as driving forces in our lives. This paper will investigate how educators need to move beyond the rhetoric to effective practices for teaching and fostering creativity. First, it will describe the nature of creativity at different levels, with a focus on personal and everyday creativity. It will then provide a brief snapshot of creativity in education through the lens of new policies and initiatives in Queensland, Australia. Next it will review two significant areas related to enriching and enhancing students’ creative engagement and production: 1) influential social and environmental factors; and 2) creative self-efficacy. Finally, this paper will propose that to effectively promote student creativity in schools, we need to not only emphasise policy, but also focus on establishing a shared discourse about the nature of creativity, and researching and implementing effective practices for supporting and fostering creativity. This paper has implications for educational policy, practice and teacher training that are applicable internationally.

In recent years there has been a growing interest in creativity in education. The publication of All Our Futures (DfEE, 1999) laid the foundations for a more expansive and outward looking ideas about the nature of education. More recent government statements such as Excellence and Enjoyment (DfES 2003) and Every Child Matters (DfES, 2004) have encouraged schools to be innovative in the construction of a creative curriculum. At the same time, the government has funded a national programme, Creative Partnerships, to help bring the creative talents of practitioners into the classroom. Since its inception in 2003, the Kent branch of Creative Partnerships (CP Kent) has worked at a number of different levels with over 100 schools. This book describes a research project into creative teachers and creative teaching undertaken between 2004-2005. The research involved a survey of 20 schools which had worked with Creative Partnerships Kent since the start of the programme all of which had rece...

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    There was, however, some evidence for the impact of creative learning environments on pupil attainment, confidence, resilience, motivation, problem-solving, interpersonal skills and school attendance. These findings have implications for policy, practice and research internationally. Get full access to this article

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