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Tim Cliffe - Blog

The Importance of Research in Instructional Design

01 Target Audience

(01.1) Anyone involved in e-Learning, social learning commissioning, Design, and related roles.

02 Executive Summary

(02.1) The importance of being knowledgeable of the research evidence available to us, in applying Instructional Design methodology to e-Learning resources, cannot be underestimated. This article presents a brief argument to support this position and presents recommendations, based upon research, for effective practice.

03 Introduction

(03.1) For those of you, like me, who have been involved in e-Learning, since its early days, will recognise many of the e-Learning templates and interactions we use today have been in use for about twenty years. Of course, the media has improved significantly thanks to the enhanced band-widths of broadband and fibre-optic, better quality graphics, animations, audio, and video.

The promise of 5G will bring a quantum leap in terms of the capability and capacity of the Internet.

 

(03.2) Having seen hundreds of e-Learning courses produced, by numerous companies for client organisations ranging from the small to the global, I am struck, as I am certain you are, by the lack of true evolution illustrated by the majority of those same courses.

 

(03.3) The e-Learning industry has a history of making impressive claims for its products. However, giving such claims calm consideration, for example, 'constantly innovating', it quickly becomes clear, constant innovation, if possible, would result in chaos.

 

(03.4) We can see from the history of the twentieth century, claims for the expected revolutionary educational benefits of radio, telephone, television, and the computer have consistently failed to materialise in any significant and durable form.

04 Failing to Learn

(04.1) With the evolution of a pervasive Internet, the emergence of mobile communications with usable capacities, and social platforms, yet again we encounter grandiose claims of the inevitable revolutionary educational benefits of these new technologies. However, history teaches us, such benefits are far from inevitable, in fact, history teaches, far from likely.

 

(04.2) These observations beg three questions:

  • Why do expectations of educational benefit fail to materialise?
  • Why does our e-Learning industry insist on making claims that do not withstand scrutiny?
  • Why have our e-Learning courses failed to substantively change over the last twenty years?
(04.3) The Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (CTML) (Mayer) has proven to be not only a resilient theory, but one able to adapt to the persuasions of new evidence. This is because Clark and Mayor base the CTML on evidence from a broad base of research - the literature.

 

(04.4) Question One

To answer our first question, 'Why do expectations of educational benefit fail to materialise?', is simple. As educationalists, we have failed to learn the evident lessons of history, and have focused on the technology, not the methodology (Clark and Mayer, et. al.).

 

(04.5) Question Two

To answer our second question, 'Why does our e-Learning industry insist on making claims that do not withstand scrutiny?'. Again, the answer is simple and somewhat obvious, the financial imperative, for e-Learning companies, to appear unique among many, combined with the expectations of clients, largely fostered by our industry, and the fact very little validation of e-Learning courses takes place to refute, or otherwise, their educational efficacy, results in a lack of evidence to support such claims. Evaluation is probably the single most important aspect of instructional design and its improvement.

 

(04.6) Question Three

I suggest the lack of substantive change in e-Learning courses, over the last twenty years, is not a significant issue, and is certainly not the issue of most importance with regard to the ability of e-Learning courses, when appropriately employed, to convey knowledge and support the long-term retention of that knowledge. The most important aspect, in this regard, is the focus on methodology not technology.

 

(04.7) I suggest our e-Learning course development needs to focus less on promotional spin and fashion, and more on employing proven and effective practice. It is clear, again from history, we continue to fail to focus on methodology to the advantage of technology. With the ever-accelerating emergence of new technologies, the 'fashionable' incorporation of such technologies will only serve to complicate the picture, and preserve our continuing failure to focus on methodology.

 

(04.8) In short, we need to focus on methodology, supported by the literature, not fashion, or perceived financial imperatives. Doing so will greatly enhance our industry's reputation, to the benefit of all, and, for the first time, deliver educational technologies that are: truly effective; capable of being demonstrated as such; and consequently make a demonstrably effective contribution to the performance of learners.

05 Recommendations

(05.1) We still need to get the basics right first. The following recommendations, taken from e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning, 3rd Ed. (Access the Wiley website page for this book (External link, opens in a new tab/window)) (R. C. Clark and R. E. Mayer), are supported by empirical evidence as effective methodologies.

Basic Principles of Multimedia Learning

Basic Principle: Description
Coherence: Learners learn more when extraneous materials are excluded.
Modality: Learners learn more from animation and narration compared with animation and printed text.
Multimedia: Learners learn more from words and pictures compared with words alone.
Pre-training: Learners learn more when they are aware of names and behaviours of main concepts.
Personalisation, Voice, and Image: Learners learn more when words of a multimedia presentation are in a conversational style compared with a formal style, when words are spoken in a standard accented human voice compared with a foreign-accented voice, or machine voice, but do not necessarily learn more when the speaker's image is on-screen.
Redundancy: Learners learn more when the same material is not presented in more than one presentation mode, e.g., animation and narration versus animation, narration, and text.
Segmentation: Learners learn more when a lesson is presented in learner-controlled segments compared with continuous blocks.
Signalling: Learners learn more when signals are included to highlight the organisation of essential material.
Spatial Contiguity: Learners learn more when corresponding words and pictures are present near each other than when far apart.
Temporal Contiguity: Learners learn more when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively.

Advanced Principles of Multimedia Learning

Advanced Principle: Description
Animation and Interactivity: Learners do not necessarily learn more from animation compared with static images.
Cognitive Ageing: Instructional design principles, that effectively expand the capacity of working memory, are particularly helpful to older learners.
Collaboration: Learners learn more when involved in collaborative on-line learning activities.
Guided Discovery: Learners learn more when guidance is incorporated into discovery-based multi-media environments.
Navigation: Learners learn more in a hypertext environment when appropriate navigational aids are provided.
Prior Knowledge: Instructional design principles that are effective at increasing multi-media learning for novices may have the converse effect on more expert learners.
Self-explanation: Learners learn more when they are encouraged to create self-explanations during learning.
Site Map: Learners learn more, in an on-line environment, when presented with a map showing where they are in the lesson.
Worked Example: Learners learn more when worked-out examples are given in initial skill learning.

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