Decades of research into the comparative effectiveness of different multimedia technologies, from the introduction of pencils and paper, typewriters, overhead projectors, cassette tapes, radio, PowerPoint, and now rich, web-based videos and interactive animations, has come to a resounding conclusion: there is no significant difference between different media when it comes to student achievement. This finding comes despite the often breathless exhortations from media evangelists that any particular medium will revolutionize education. A shining example of this is Thomas Edison, who claimed in 1922
the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and [that] in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks
Muller1 has termed this phenomenon the equivalence principle. Muller asks you to imagine a student who views a video recording illustrating Newtonian mechanics, and another student who reads a book with words and pictures about Newtonian mechanics. If both students perform equally well on the same test, what could you conclude about the two forms of multimedia? Should we discard the video method because it confers no learning advantage over static text and pictures? Or could we conclude that there is no significant difference between the forms of media and that they are equivalent in terms of the cognitive processes that they inspire?
If different forms of multimedia are equivalent, then it makes sense to take advantage of tools which help maximize our time and which pose few or low barriers in the creation of content, especially if there are indications that some media are perceived as being more personal and engaging than others.
Mandernach 2 investigated the role that instructor-created multi-media elements can play in engaging students in online courses. Participants in the mixed-method quasi-experimental study were enrolled in one of four identical online courses offered in sequential terms.
- Term 1 – Control
- Term 2 – weekly video announcements (10 videos of 1-3 minutes each covering an informal discussion of the topic)
- Term 3 – weekly video announcements and voice-over-PowerPoint (10 videos of 3-8 minutes covering additional detail about course topics)
- Term 4 – weekly video announcements, voice-over-PowerPoint and PowerPoint with video narration (10 videos explored topics beyond the course text or other supplemental materials).
The study did not consider the different multi-media treatments comparatively, but rather looked at differences between the groups with the cumulative addition of more instructor-created media. A quantitative analysis of survey data showed no significant differences in students perception of their level of engagement with the course materials or in levels of achievement as measured by performance on the final exam and the overall course grade. There was, however, a slight increase in reported engagement with increased amounts of instructor-created multi-media.
Conversely, a qualitative analysis of solicited and unsolicited comments from students showed that students who had access to instructor-generated multi-media were significantly more likely to report that the online course was more personal and that they had been positively influenced to take further courses in the subject area.
Mandernach speculates that the discrepancy between the results of the two analyses could be caused by a number of factors including the design of the quantitative survey, sample size, and the fact that the course was an introductory survey, among others.
Among Mandernach’s conclusions is the recommendation that online instructors should consider creating their own video resources but only if the investment required to do so is low.
- Muller, D. (2008). Designing effective multimedia for physics education. Dissertation, University of Sydney, Sydney.
- Mandernach, B. J. (2009). Effect of instructor-personalized multimedia in the online classroom. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10, 1-19. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/606/1297