Dynamic Media in Computer Science Education; Content Complexity and Learning Performance: Is Less More?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

With the increasing use of dynamic media in multimedia learning material, it is important to consider not only the technological but also the cognitive aspects of its application. A large amount of previous research does not provide preference to either static or dynamic media for educational purposes and a considerable number of studies found positive, negative or even no effects of dynamic media on learning performance. Consequently, it is still necessary to discern which factors contribute to the success or failure of static or dynamic media. The study presented here can be seen as another brick in the wall of understanding students' learning supported by dynamic media. In this study, aspects of cognitive load and the ability to generate mental representations for the purpose of appropriate animation design and development are considered. The learning performance of static versus dynamic media amongst a total of 129 Computer Science students, including a control group, was investigated. The results showed that learning performance using dynamic media was significantly higher than those of the static textbook lesson when the learning material had a certain level of complexity; the more complex the learning material, the larger the benefit of using animations. The results were examined for possible factors that contributed to the success or failure of dynamic media in education. In conclusion, this study has successfully confirmed the theory that dynamic media can support learning when cognitive load and learners' mental representations are taken into account during the design and development of learning material containing dynamic media.

Keywords

Static media, Dynamic media, Animations, Learning performance, Cognitive load

Introduction and Motivation for Research

A common distinction of learning material refers to static (e.g., texts or images) and dynamic (e.g., animations or simulations) media. Dynamic media are very popular and are almost omnipresent in today's information and media society. Dynamic media, moreover, is an increasingly important factor in educating the so called twitch speed generation.

The term twitch speed generation was introduced by Prensky (2001) and basically means the under-30 generation, whom he presumes to be capable of processing information faster and more in parallel than the generations before. Prensky sees some reasons for this change in information processing in the increasing influence on children and adolescents of speeding media such as MTV (music television) or computer games.

While initiated by such manifest considerations, the following research also resulted from a practical question: The publisher (Vogel Wuerzburg, Germany) of the first author's student textbooks (Holzinger, 2002) for computer science students wanted to know, whether offering additional electronic material in the form of small multimedia Learning Objects (LO) with these textbooks would benefit the students and, if so, to what extent. Naturally, the cost/benefit ratio of such electronic learning material is also an issue for a publisher. However, in this study we concentrate on aspects of learning performance of generic learning material, although we investigated the technological aspects of such Learning Objects, their interoperability, reusability, and packaging on learning platforms (see e.g. Holzinger, Nischelwitzer & Kickmeier-Rust (2006)).

Consequently, three main questions emerged: 1) Is there, principally, a discernable difference in learning performance between electronic learning material, shown here in the form of minimal ("spartanic") electronic learning material (containing dynamic media), and printed matter (static media, including diagrams and pictures); and 2) if there is a difference, what are these differences and how far do they extend? Finally, 3) what can we learn from research, which can be applied to the design and development of such multimedia learning material? …