Re: Using Rich Media Wisely

A response to Chapter 31, “Using Rich Media Wisely,” in Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology

Question

Suppose you wish to help people learn how to carry out a fitness exercise routine using workout equipment.  Would it be better to use a series of still diagrams, an animation, or a video?  Would it be better to use printed text or spoken text or no text?  Justify your answer in terms of research evidence and a cognitive theory of learning.

Answer

In order to select the best options for training, in terms of rich media, it is best to begin with a learner-centered approach, asking, “How can we adapt rich media to aid human learning?” rather than beginning with the technology-centered question, “How can we use rich media to design instruction” (Clark & Mayer, 2017, pp. 259-260). Using the learner-centered approach means focusing on the facilitation of the learners’ natural learning process in order to gain the most ground in terms of instruction and knowledge construction (p. 260). “Rich media should be used (or not used) in ways that are consistent with what we know about how people learn and with research evidence concerning instructional effectiveness” (p. 260).

In this case, the overall objective is to help people learn how to carry out a fitness exercise routine using workout equipment. Utilizing evidence from research in cognitive theory, a learner-centered plan for effective instruction can be developed. According to cognitive information processing theory, proposed by Atkinson and Shriffin in 1968, there are three types of memory: sensory, working, and long-term (Driscoll, 2017, p. 54; Clark & Mayer, 2017, p. 261). Sensory memory receives external input though audio and visual channels. Next, the information is processed by the working memory, the center of all conscious thinking. Working memory is very limited and susceptible to cognitive overload, when overtaxed. Storage in long-term memory is the goal of learning, where knowledge is retained and can be accessed and built upon. Meaningful learning occurs when selecting, organizing, and integrating of information occurs, which moves that information from working memory into long-term memory (Clark & Mayer, 2017, p. 261).

The amount of mental work imposed on working memory is the cognitive load. “Novice learners with little related knowledge in long-term memory are much more susceptible to cognitive overload” (Clark & Mayer, 2017, p. 261). What differentiates novice learners from experts is how they construct knowledge and their ability to solves problems.” Novices lack “schemas.” These are chunks of information that have been encoded into long-term memory and are used by learners to “interpret events and solve problems” (Driscoll, 2017, p. 54). In fact, “differences in relevant prior knowledge” are recognized as “perhaps the single most important feature to be considered when designing instruction” (Clark & Mayer, 2017, p. 261).

Therefore the first question to ask when developing training for the workout program is, “Are the learners novices or experts?” For the purpose of this discussion, we will assume that the learners targeted by the workout program are novices.

“The major challenge of instructional design is to promote selecting, organizing, and integrating information (cognitive processing), in order to develop or build upon schemas in long-term memory without overloading the working memory” (Clark & Mayer, 2017, p. 261). There are three research-based principles that must be considered to prevent cognitive overload, and promote cognitive processing, during instruction: limited capacity principle, dual-channels principle, and active learning principle (p. 261).

Limited capacity principle

The limited capacity principle says, “People can only process a small amount of information in each channel at any one time” (Clark & Mayer, 2017, p. 261). Supporting research demonstrates that novices benefit from visuals but experts experience the reverse effect. Visuals may depress learning in experts (p. 263). Since our learners are novices, it is important to remember that explanations that use visuals, rather than text only, are better. In terms of visuals, although animated graphics can illustrate processes that cannot be otherwise illustrated, a series of still frames can result in learning as good or better than animated version, usually at a lower cost (p. 263).

Since it is also proven that simple line diagrams more effective than more elaborate ones, especially for novices, the major component moves of each exercise, and the mechanisms of the workout equipment, will be represented by simple line drawings (p. 263). Still drawings are helpful in allowing learners to compare one phase of movement to the next (pp. 263-264). However, since research has shown that physical tasks, particularly those using the hands, are best represented by animation rather than still graphics, our learners will be given several simple animations to bring together the component exercise moves that were illustrated by still visuals (p. 264).

Dual-channels principle

The dual-channels principle says that, “People have separate channels for processing visual/pictorial and auditory/verbal information” (Clark & Mayer, 2017, p. 261). The dual-channels principle is true for both sensory and working memory, so if information delivery is divided between auditory and visual channels, cognitive overload (which occurs in working memory) is reduced (p. 266). For the same reason, it is not ideal to use written (text) graphics along with other visual input since that is accessing the same visual channel. Augmenting visuals with verbal or audio instructions is more beneficial. Research shows that, whenever audio is used, it is best for learners to have access to replay or stop/start buttons. (p. 266).

So, when animations are used for our learners, audio narration will be added, though learners will have the ability to stop and start the lesson, as needed.

Active learning principle

The active learning principle explains that people must engage in cognitive processing in order for meaningful learning to occur—attending to relevant information, categorizing/organizing the material, and integrating it with knowledge schemas stored in long-term memory (Clark & Mayer, 2017, pp. 261-262). Utilizing research that supports active learning principle means helping learners to better attend to information, so it can be categorized and integrated with existing knowledge. Studies have shown that there is better learning when a reading precedes a video—learners are more apt to attend to the details in the video that were covered in the reading. In addition, information is better attended when extraneous footage and distracting visuals are eliminated (p. 265). Finally, animations that employ cueing devices—such as arrows on the line drawings and color flows and audio on the animations—draw attention to relevant aspects of the animation (p. 264).

So, our learners will read the directions for each exercise before seeing any animation (Clark & Mayer, 2017, p. 265). Animations will be focused on the exercise moves to eliminate extraneous distractions (p. 265). Finally, cues will be added to the stills, in the forms of arrows, and to the animation in the form of color flows and audio cues (p. 264). Learners will have individual controls that allow stopping and starting as deemed necessary, by the learner (pp. 264-265).

By drawing on cognitive processing research, the design for workout instruction, using machine, aims to provide learner-centered instruction, in order to “accommodate the learner’s limits on information processing and leverage the strengths of the human memory” (Clark & Mayer, 2017, p. 260).


Clark, R.C. & Mayer, R. E. (2017). Using Rich Media Wisely. In Reiser & Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (pp. 259-228). New York, NY: Pearson.

Driscoll, M. P. (2017). Psychological Foundations of Instructional Design. In Reiser & Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (pp. 259-228). New York, NY: Pearson.

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