AECT Handbook of Research

Table of Contents

34: Instructional Technology and Attitude Change

34.1 Introduction
34.2 The Nature of Attitudes
34.3 Theories of Attitude Change
34.4 Attitudes and Behavior
34.5 Measuring Attitudes
34.6 Attitudes and Instructional Media - The Literature
34.7 Conclusion: Designing Mediated Messages for Attitude Change and the Model of Cumulative Effect.


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34.2 The Nature of Attitudes

Research on attitudes has been popular in many disciplines. However, the construct is considered more central to social Psychology than to any other academic area. Allport (1935) claimed 60 years ago "the concept of attitude is probably the most distinctive and indispensable concept in contemporary American social psychology.- This assessment is as appropriate today as it was then. Most information on attitudes is reported in the literature of social psychology (see 6.6,

34.2.1 Attitudes Defined

Attitudes and attitude change have been discussed at least since the beginning of this century (Thomas & Znaniecki, 1918). The study of attitudes has been an important area of interest to psychologists, who often were also interested in related concepts such as propaganda. Educators have been interested in attitudes because of their possible impact on learning, and while attitudes have not been convincingly linked to achievement, they have been long considered an important component of the most important outcome of education: learning.

Attitude has been a difficult concept to define adequately, primarily because it has been defined by so many, but also because of the word's differing lay uses and connotations. One of the earliest definitions of attitude was proposed by Thomas and Znaniecki (1918). They defined attitude as:

A mental and neural state of readiness, organized through experience, exerting a directive or dynamic influence upon the individual's response to all objects and situations with which it is related.

More recently, Zimbardo, and Leippe (1991) defined attitude as:

An evaluative disposition toward some object based upon cognitions, affective reactions, behavioral intentions, and past behaviors ... that can influence cognitions, affective responses, and future intentions and behaviors.

Attitudes are latent and not directly observable in themselves, but they act to organize or provide direction to actions and behaviors that are observable. Many refer to attitudes as "predispositions to respond" (Zimbardo & Leippe, 199 1). Attitudes are related to how people perceive the situations in which they find themselves. Also, attitudes vary in direction (either positive or negative), in degree (the amount of positiveness or negativeness), and in intensity (die amount of commitment with which a position is held; Smith, 1082).

34.2.2 Attitude Systems

Attitude positions are the summary aggregation of four components: (a) affective responses, (b) cognitions, (c) behaviors, and (d) behavioral intentions (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991). The affective component of attitude is said to consist of a person's evaluation of, liking of, or emotional response to some situation, object, or person. Affective responses reflect one's attitude with sensations of pleasure, sadness, or other levels of physical arousal- For example, for the attitude construct of computer anxiety, a topic of current interest, the affective component would be a person's liking of the computer and his feeling of excitement, or dread, when she or he used one.

The cognitive component of an attitude is conceptualized as a person's factual knowledge of the situation, object, or person, including oneself. In other words, the cognitive component refers to how much a person knows about a topic, such as computers. The cognitive component of computer anxiety would be based on how much a person knows about computers and her level of understanding of computer operation.

The behavioral component of an attitude involves the person's overt behavior directed toward a situation, object, or person. For example, the behavioral component of computer anxiety would be related to how often a person had used a computer, and what kind of experience he had. Persons who routinely use computers, especially if they choose to use them freely, would be more likely to have positive attitudes toward computers, and be less anxious, than would others who have fewer experiences with computers.

Finally, the behavioral intention component involves the person's plans to perform in a certain way, even if sometimes these plans are never acted upon. An example, once again, is the construct of computer anxiety. Computer anxiety is defined by Maurer and Simonson (1993, 1994, p. 206) as "the fear or apprehension felt by an individual when considering the implications of utilizing computer technology, or when actually using computer technology." The behavioral intention component of this attitude construct would be the "apprehension felt by an individual when considering the implications of utilizing computer technology." In other words, if people knew that they were going to have to use computers in an upcoming class, this would partially shape their level of computer anxiety. If the class were to be a difficult one, say in statistics, then computer anxiety would be likely to be increased.

These four components of attitude form an attitude system. The components are not isolated but are interrelated and produce an organizing framework or mental representation of the attitude construct. Cognitive schemata provide structure to interrelated attitudes and guide the information processes of attending, interpreting, and reconstructing (Smith, 1982). Behavioral research supports the idea that actions lead to the formation of cognitive schemata, which lead to the creation of attitudes. It would seem that the opposite is also true. Attitudes help form cognitive relationships, which in turn predispose behaviors.

34.2.3 Attitude Formation

Situational stimuli or events in the environment directly influence behavior and the formation of attitudes. Strict behaviorists would argue that internal events that form attitudes are the result of observable actions. A change in attitude or beliefs occurs as a result of actions that have been influenced by reinforcers. Social-learning theory expands this principle. According to social-learning theorists, it is not essential to learn behaviors directly through action and reinforcement, as traditional behavioral psychologists would propose. Indirect learning through observing a model and receiving verbal instruction has a powerful impact on behavior and attitude formation (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991).

Situations that include a change in the behavioral component of attitude lead to changes in attitudes. But there is also a reciprocal action. Since the components of attitude systems are interrelated, a change in liking (affect) may result in a change in behaviors (Smith, 1982). For example, the currently popular concept of the cognitive apprenticeship is based on the idea of learners participating as apprentices in real-world activities with those who are more knowledgeable than they. If designed correctly, these situations are perceived by learners as important and realistic, and learners come to value them. The overt activities of cognitive apprenticeships produce in students favorable dispositions (i.e., affects), which in turn promote a sense of value and often a desire to learn more.

34.2.4 An Example

Some professions use computers more than others. For example, stockbrokers use computers routinely, and their use of computers, especially computer networks, is directly related to positive consequences, such as increased profits.

Students who work as apprentices with stockbrokers will most likely see the importance of computers and gain an appreciation of them (an affective reaction). They also learn a great deal about using computers (a cognitive reaction) as they navigate through various options included in the stockbroker's network of computer databases and on-line sources of information (a behavioral reaction), and certainly this real-world use of the computer is perceived as important.

Finally, future uses (behavioral intentions) are important because the apprentice stockbroker learns quickly from the mentor that financial success may be directly related to continued use of computers and computer systems. In this case, cognitive apprenticeships are effective attitude change strategies because they often place learners in situations where an entire attitude system is influenced.

Maurer (1983) has reported that computer anxiety is lower for those who see an observable benefit to computer use, such as stockbrokers who can use computer skills to increase productivity. Stockbrokers usually have relatively low levels of computer anxiety because their computer attitude systems are continuously and positively modified during their work.

Maurer (1983) also reported, as have others, that all groups, even computer-intensive professionals such as stockbrokers, have individuals that are more or less computer anxious than their peers. These computer-using professionals just tend to be less anxious than some other groups of people. A characteristic of attitudes is that they are variable, not discrete. Attitudes are analog, not digital. Attitudes vary among individuals.

34.2.5 Importance of Attitudes

Traditionally when instruction is designed, there are two categories of outcomes in mind: those directed toward cognitive goals, and those related to the attitudes of the learner. There is little necessity to argue the importance of the acquisition of knowledge by a student as a result of instruction. Achievement is the paramount objective of most instructional activities, However, it may also be important to recognize the need for establishing attitudinal goals and for planning activities designed to facilitate affective outcomes in learners as a consequence of an instructional situation. As a matter of fact, it has become increasingly apparent to those involved in educational technology research that one of the major, and possibly unique, consequences of instructional situations involving media is the likelihood of the development of positive attitudinal positions in students (Simonson, 1985).

The most powerful rationale for the need to promote attitude positions in learners would be to demonstrate a direct relationship between attitudes and achievement, or liking and learning. Numerous researchers have identified such a relationship (Fenneman, 1973; Greenwald, 1965, 1966; Lamb, 1987; Levy, 1973; Perry & Kopperman, 1973; Simonson, 1977; Simonson, 1978; Simonson & Bullard, 1978). However, most educational and psychological researchers are reluctant to claim that there is any cause and-effect linkage between these two learner variables (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991). There are too many intervening forces likely to influence the relationship between how a person feels and how he or she behaves. Attitudes are thought to "predispose" persons to act Positive attitudes toward a topic are felt to orient the person in a positive manner toward that idea, but not to predict actions directly.

The impact of attitude on learning is only one reason for interest in attitudes. There are other arguments that explain why attitudes of learners are important. First, most educators would agree that there are times when it is legitimate, and important, for learners to accept the truth of certain ideas-in other words, to accept an attitudinal position. The importance of voting is an attitude position that most would agree is important. Civics teachers routinely "teach" this attitude.

Second, while the strength of the relationship between attitudes and achievement is unclear, it seems logical that students are more likely to remember information, seek new ideas, and continue studying when they react favorably to an instructional situation or like a certain content area. Students who like chemistry Will tend to stay after class to work on experiments, read about chemistry outside of class, and be more likely to elect to take a chemistry course than will those who do not like chemistry. Learners tend to do what they like, not what they do not like. They gravitate toward their interests.

Third, there are some instances when influencing student's attitudes is not desirable, so educators should be aware of which techniques affect attitudes. In this way, possible bias can be recognized and eliminated. The gender biases found in textbooks are considered partially responsible for gender biases in people. For example, the use of the generic he was long considered appropriate by textbook authors and publishers. Now it is obvious that the use of this term helped form an inappropriate attitude position in both boys and girls that males were more important.

Last, student attitudes toward a situation can tell the teacher a great deal about the impact of that situation on the learning process. Obviously, attitudes need to be measured in order to know if they have been influenced. As a result of quantitatively and qualitatively assessing the opinions of students toward the learning activities in which they are participating, it may be possible to improve the quality of procedures. One of the most important techniques of evaluation is to ascertain attitudes toward some event, object, or person. End-of-course evaluations of attitude toward courses and course content are a standard activity in schools and training centers.

In summary, attitudes, as shall be discussed later, are complex phenomena. They have been studied for decades by social scientists and educators and are beginning to be understood as organizers related to learning processes and outcomes. Attitudes are learned "predispositions to respond" held by individuals that make them likely to act in certain ways. Attitudes are not observable, but they do serve to help produce observable actions in people.

Social psychologists, and others, have proposed a number of theories of attitude change. Many of the theories are related, so there has been considerable effort to categorize them. Because of the comprehensiveness of the attitude change literature, it is considered important to review the theories of attitude change as a foundation for proposing guidelines for persuasion.

Updated August 3, 2001
Copyright © 2001
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