Multimedia in a Science Learning Environment

By Srinivasan, Sribhagyam; Crooks, Steven | Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview
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Multimedia in a Science Learning Environment

Srinivasan, Sribhagyam, Crooks, Steven, Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia

This article presents a review of the literature multimedia learning in science. It is no small matter that teachers value using technology, more specifically multimedia, in teaching. But this interest falls far short when it comes to application. Why is it so? This article tries to find the reasons behind this dichotomy. Then, research from science related areas that addresses important issues relevant to multimedia design in conjunction with Mayer's theories is presented. Finally, examples of research involving effective science learning experiences for students with multimedia is presented, and directions for future research are shown. The purpose of this article is to encourage research in order to expand the use of multimedia in the sciences by overcoming the weaknesses that exist at present.


Technology has improved so much today, that it is easy to teach in ways that are both interactive and communicative. Constructivism has come to stay and technology, and more specifically multimedia, has surely helped in its popularity. So, what is multimedia?

Multimedia today refers not only to what is presented through computers, but also through the composition of text and illustrations in print media (Iding, 2000). According to Mayer (1997), multimedia learning occurs when information is presented in more than one mode. It could be through pictures, words spoken or written, or through video. The effects of multimedia need to be critically researched under diverse conditions, in order to improve the instructional design process.

The multimedia learning curve can be steep. This could be due to various factors such as knowledge of software and its viability that is dependant on extraneous features such as the operating system used, the time taken for creating the multimedia and for downloading the created project, and the most relevant being the readiness of classrooms to make a success of the project. Added to these constraints are other challenges such as computer limitations involving both hardware and software, individual differences among learners' abilities, and their computer expertise, to name a few.

The use of multimedia software is becoming more popular with the improvement in computer technology. But should it be used because it is popular or because it meets the instructional objectives? There is debate going on about the effectiveness of computer-based instruction (CBI) versus the traditional classroom approaches or teacher-led approach. CBI or Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI) as the sole mode of instruction has not been found to be as effective (LaBonty, 1989; Morrell, 1992; Ruef & Layne, 1990). According to McKethan and Everhart (2001), the effectiveness of CBI is dependent upon its purpose, the context of its use and the design of the software, while the effectiveness of lecture based instruction not only is dependent on purpose and context, but also diminishes with time (McKeachie, 1986). The debate on the comparison of different media as a learning tool takes this even deeper. Two of the best known articles on this issue, written by Clark (1983) and Kozma (1991), are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Clark states that it is "what the teacher does--the teaching--that influences learning" and that "we will not find learning differences that can be unambiguously attributed to any medium of instruction." He goes to the extent of recommending that no further research, in exploring the relationship between media and learning, is required. Kozma, on the other hand, takes a diametrically opposite view. According to him, some students will learn regardless of the use of medium while others need it to help construct knowledge. Therefore, medium and method have an integral relationship and they are both part of the design. McKethan and Everhart (2001) have concluded that multimedia as a learning tool is no better or no worse than the lecture method when the instructional objective requires only a recall of information.

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