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Avoiding Gratuitous Multimedia

25 Jun, 2005
The change in practice described in this case study relates to the rationale for using multimedia-based e-learning materials, which changed from: Improving and enhancing the learning experience by making it more interesting, engaging and motivating to: Being the most effective medium to use to achieve the intended learning outcome

Institutional context

e-College Wales is a collaboration between the University of Glamorgan and its partner college network of FE colleges delivering business studies courses on-line. All the students are lifelong learners studying at a distance and access learning resources through the Blackboard VLE and the University's own content management system.

Learner activity

Learning Business Management skills through interaction with on-line multimedia learning objects

Pedagogical / technical approach

The multimedia learning objects are Flash-based and are designed as teaching aids to describe and explain specific aspects of Business Management. They are embedded in web pages with accompanying text and graphics. Interaction is through navigation buttons and links included in the Flash objects. Both static and animated Flash objects are used.

Intended outcome

The use of multimedia was intended to improve and enhance the learning experience by making it more interesting, engaging and motivating.

Challenges

Evaluation of the experiences of Lifelong Learners engaging on-line with multimedia learning objects revealed a number of negative issues as well as delivering the intended outcomes above.

The first issue related to triviality: a number of objects merely replaced what would normally have been a mixture of text and graphics with an interactive or animated version of the same text and graphics. Not only did they not enhance the learning experience, they actually wasted the learners' time by taking longer to complete than they would have done if read as text and graphics.

The second issue related to removing control of the pace of learning from the learner. A number of animated sequences were included to illustrate particular processes, each of which took up to one minute to complete. The pace of the animations was conservatively set on the slow side and were reported to be moderately frustrating for learners able to grasp the points being made much more quickly.

A related issue was the control of sequencing in interactive multimedia based learning activities. Many of the learning objects obliged the learner to progress through them in a linear fashion which was entirely appropriate in many instances, but inappropriate in others.

The final issue was to do with recall and reference. The multimedia objects typically presented the learner with information about the subject in hand through an interactive sequence. Often this would be through pop-up windows appearing following a mouse click on a particular word or graphic. If the learner wanted to remind themselves of the information at a later point in the module they had to return to the topic and re-run the sequence.

Established practice

The original practice involved the use of multimedia as often as possible in the e-learning materials as it was perceived that it would always enhance the learning experience.

The e-learning advantage

As feedback from students was received, it became clear that the issues noted above often made the use of multimedia inappropriate, particularly where it was merely reproducing text and graphics in a different way.

At the same time, feedback was also making it clear that some of the multimedia objects were spectacularly effective in facilitating learning. Examples of this included objects that presented visual representations of information in a way that was instantly insightful.

The new practice that emerged from this evaluation was that a more strategic approach to the use of multimedia was taken. The fundamental principle that is now applied is that multimedia is used when it is demonstrably the best medium to use in facilitating a learning outcome.

Key points for effective practice

  1. A general principle that applies to all e-learning materials development is that it should be based on established effective practice in learning design
  2. Multimedia, when used to facilitate learning, is just the communications medium through which the learning is delivered. In that respect it is the same as text, graphics of any other communications medium
  3. Multimedia can be very effective at conveying concepts and demonstrating processes visually in an interactive and semi-automated way. However, there are a number of qualifying factors that need to be taken into account:
    1. It must be the most effective medium to use to achieve the intended learning outcome
    2. It must justify the greater development cost by delivering a proportionately greater benefit than other methods
    3. Where it takes control away from the learner the benefit that it brings must more than compensate for that loss of control

Conclusions and recommendations

The change in practice described in this case study related to the rationale for using multimedia-based e-learning materials, which changed from:

Improving and enhancing the learning experience by making it more interesting, engaging and motivating
to:
Being the most effective medium to use to achieve the intended learning outcome

The general conclusion drawn was that all communications mediums used to facilitate learning have different strengths and weaknesses. The important message to take from this example of e-learning practice is that the strengths and weaknesses must be thoroughly understood for an appropriate choice to be made in e-learning design.

Additional information

For further information contact: Prof Tony Toole
University of Glamorgan Business School
April 2005

 

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