Learning through Multimedia

Metiri Report CoverWe’ve known for some time now that multimodal instruction (e.g., integrating multimedia) can be more effective than conveying content using single modes of instruction (e.g., lecture only). Followers of research are aware of the dangers of overloading our instruction with multimedia – like all good things that must be consumed in moderation.

But what does effective use of multimedia in instruction look like? Under what parameters are we being responsible conveyors of content via multimedia? A new report summarize the findings of a review of multiple research studies. It’s fascinating in that it goes well beyond what we know about technology in education, extending to research on what goes on in individual learners’ minds as concepts and information are being processed under various conditions and modes of delivery.

The report, commissioned by Cisco Systems, is by the Metiri Group and titled Multimodal Learning through Media: What the Research Says
Multimodal_Learning_Media_Metiri PDF

Here’s an excerpt that I especially like in the context of universal design:

“One of the bottlenecks to efficient learning is our own physiology – the way our brains are wired severely limits our capacity to learn. It is precisely this limitation that educators must overcome through informed design of learning environments, curricula, instruction, assessments, and resources. As they design lessons, create learning environments, and interact with students, they are seeking augmentations that accommodate for these human limitations. This is analogous to the design of machines (such as cars, tractors, elevators, robotic factories, can openers, stairs, etc.) used to accommodate for our severe physical strength and endurance limitations – only now we are augmenting intellectual capacity rather than physical capacity.” (p. 7).

And when it comes to those parameters that we’ve been seeking – i.e., How do I know when I’ve got the right balance of combining modes of presentation without under- or over-doing it? – here are some principles that the report cites from multiple studies (see pp. 12 & 13):

1. Multimedia Principle: Retention is improved through words and pictures rather than through words alone.

2. Spatial Contiguity Principle: Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near each other rather than far from each other on the page or screen.

3. Temporal Contiguity Principle: Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively.

4. Coherence Principle: Students learn better when extraneous words, pictures, and sounds are excluded rather than included.

5. Modality Principle: Students learn better from animation and narration than from animation and on-screen text.

6. Redundancy Principle: Students learn better when information is not represented in more than one modality – redundancy interferes with learning.

7a. Individual Differences Principle: Design effects are higher for low-knowledge learners than for high-knowledge learners.

7b. Individual Differences Principle: Design effects are higher for high-spatial learners rather than for low-spatial learners.

8. Direct Manipulation Principle: As the complexity of the materials increase, the impact of direct manipulation of the learning materials (animation, pacing) on transfer also increases

A finding of the report that can inform our work as instructors is that “Students engaged in learning that incorporates multimodal designs, on average, outperform students who learn using traditional approaches with single modes” (p. 13). A good reason to keep on keepin’ on!

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