57 Channels (and Nothin’ On)

Bruce Springsteen said it best in 1992 when he lamented the empty promise of entertainment choices for the masses. Now a communications explosion of multimedia options competes for our attention; you can even get those 57 channels (plus much more) on your phone.

With all of the multimedia choices today, learning professionals are challenged with getting and keeping the attention of prospective and committed learners alike. We need to ensure that we offer the right mix of media to reach all students without falling prey to the same shallow edutainment of countless online learning options. Since the firestorm of multimedia options started to gain ground in the 1990’s, learning theory expanded dramatically. Several lines of research evolved (e.g. cognitive load, multimedia learning). The possibilities for learning and instruction are limitless.

Developed by educational psychologist Richard E. Mayer, multimedia learning theory states that optimal learning occurs when both visual and verbal materials are presented simultaneously. Mayer’s studies found that students did significantly better when it came to applying what they had learned and committing it to long-term memory after receiving multimedia rather than mono-media (visual only or audio only) instruction.

Combining our understanding of multimedia education with the adult student’s need to learn socially as well as construct his own meaning provides the balance needed to create the rich experience enjoyed in a traditional classroom setting while still providing the flexibility to learn when you want to learn. Successfully translating this understanding into tangible, instructional products, helps take the “distance” out of distance learning. By combining text, audio, still images, animation, video with “hands-on” interactivity, and content forms like live labs and collaborative learning activities, we can more effectively appeal to varying learning styles. This not only offers the necessary balance of choice, but (frankly) it works and it’s just right.

If these techniques are properly implemented, we no longer have to scan the various channels of similar edutainment only find that there is “nothing on”. We can dive into a rich learning experience where interaction with the environment, other students, and subject-matter experts keep us engaged and help us reach our learning goals in the most efficient and productive manner possible.

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