WikiEdProfessional eLearning Guidebook/Pedagogical designs for eLearning/Do media influence learning?

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While it is clear that information and communications technology offers tremendous opportunities for capturing, storing, disseminating and communicating a wide variety of information, does it influence learning, and if it does, what is the nature and extent of that influence? These questions are at the heart of a longstanding debate and discussion on the influences of media on learning. The origins of this debate and discussion on the influences of media on learning date back to the invention of radio and television. On developing a camera that used film rolls, Thomas Edison had expected that the motion picture would revolutionize education and make schooling a lot more attractive and motivating for students (Heinich, Molenda, & Russell, 1993). Commentators of that time had suggested that instead of wanting to stay away from school, students would rush back to school and not want to leave school. While we know that this did not actually happen, the moving image did influence our ability to represent many things in many different ways, in and outside of school.

Several decades after Edison’s inventions, and based on the growing influence of radio, television and other media on our lives, Marshall MCLuhan claimed that the “medium is the message” (McLuhan, 1964). With this aphorism, McLuhan was suggesting that each medium has characteristics and capabilities that have the potential to shape, direct and enhance our capabilities (Campbell, 2000). As such McLuhan saw media as “extensions of man” which is the subtitle of his classic book (McLuhan, 1964). The 1960s and 70s saw growing enthusiasm in the use of computers in education. This was naturally followed by similar interest in the impacts of computers on learning with many researchers concluding that while media may have some economic benefits, they did not show any benefits on learning (Lumsdaine, 1963; Mielke, 1968). Several leading researchers of the time argued that learning and any learning gain is actually caused by the way the subject matter content is presented via a medium, rather than the medium itself (Clark & Solomon, 1986; Kulik, 1985; Schramm, 1977).

A prominent contributor to this discussion on media research -- Richard Clark -- has in fact proclaimed that “media will never influence learning” (Clark, 1994). He has in fact suggested that “media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition” (Clark, 1983, p. 445). Clark concedes that media can have important influences on the cost and speed of learning, but argues that it is only the instructional method that can influence learning. He defines instructional method as “the provision of cognitive processes or strategies that are necessary for learning but which students cannot or will not provide for themselves” (Clark, 1994. p. 5). Clark’s argument is that media is replaceable and therefore “any teaching method can be delivered to students by many media or a variety of mixtures of media attributes – with similar learning results (Clark, 1994, p. 5). Based on this claim, he put forth a challenge for anyone to “find evidence, in well designed study, of any instance of a medium or media attributes that are not replaceable by a different set of media and attributes to achieve similar learning results for any given student and learning task” (Clark, 1994, p. 2).

However, not everyone agrees with these suggestions and claims of Richard Clark. One of these is Robert Kozma who is another prominent contributor to this discussion. Kozma reviewed relevant research on learning with media which suggests that the “capabilities of a particular medium, in conjunction with methods that take advantage of these capabilities, interact with and influence the ways learners represent and process information and may result in more or different learning when one medium is compared to another for certain learners and tasks” (Kozma, 1991, p. 179). The body of literature that Kozma reviewed supports a theoretical framework for learning which sees the learner as “actively collaborating with the medium to construct knowledge”, where “learning is viewed as an active, constructive process whereby the learner strategically manages the available cognitive resources to create new knowledge by extracting information from the environment and integrating it with information already stored in memory” (Kozma, 1991, p. 179-180). In such educational settings, the medium is not inert and it does not exist independently of the learning context and the subject matter content. In fact, when it is carefully integrated into the learning experience, the medium often interacts with the instructional method to produce the intended learning outcomes for the students in a given learning context. Therefore the media used, along with the instructional method would seem to have an influence on learning. In such educational settings, it would be difficult to disentangle the discrete and unique influences of the media and the method on learning.