The Multiple-Media Difference

Article excerpt

USING SEVEN KINDS OF SYNCHRONOUS AND ASYNCHRONOUS INTERACTIVE MEDIA FOR A COURSE ON DISTANCE LEARNING--FACE-TO-FACE AS WELL AS VIRTUAL TECHNIQUES--THIS UNIVERSITY INSTRUCTOR REPORTS THAT ALL OF HIS GRADUATE STUDENTS WERE ABLE TO FIND THEIR VOICES 1N ONE OR ANOTHER OF THE MEDIA AND MANY OF THEM ACHIEVED PROFOUND AND RICH LEARNING EXPERIENCES AT A DISTANCE. BUT THE USE OF MULTIPLE INTERACTIVE MEDIA ALSO HAS DISADVANTAGES. NOT THE LEAST OF WHICH 1S THE PROBLEM OF MEASURING THE OUTCOMES OF WHAT HE CALLS DISTRIBUTED LEARNING.

A medium is in part a channel for conveying content. With the Internet increasingly pervading society and fostering new interactive media such as shared virtual environments, educators can readily reach extensive, remote resources and audiences using on-demand and just-in-time techniques.

Just as important, however, a medium is a representational container that permits the use of new types of messages. Since expression and communication are based on representations such as language and imagery, the process of learning is enhanced by broadening the types of instructional messages students and teachers can exchange. New forms of representation, such as interactive models using visualization and other means of making abstractions tangible and sensory, make possible a broader, more powerful repertoire of pedagogical strategies.

Emerging interactive media also empower novel types of learning experiences. Interpersonal interactions across networks, for instance, can lead to the formation of virtual communities. (See my article "Emerging Technologies and Distributed Learning," American Journal of Distance Education 10:2, pp. 4-36.)

DISTRIBUTED LEARNING

By means of the innovative kinds of pedagogy enabled by these novel media, messages, and experiences, our hitherto synchronous, group, presentation-centered forms of education--traditional "teaching by telling"--are evolving into an alternative instructional paradigm. "Distributed learning" involves orchestrating "learning-by-doing" educational activities among classrooms, workplaces, homes, and community settings.

Recent advances in computer-supported collaborative learning, hypermedia, and experiential simulation allow students to experience guided, inquiry-based learning across barriers of distance and time. With the aid of mentors, students collaboratively create, share, and master knowledge about authentic real-world problems. Through a mixture of instructional media, learners and educators can experience synchronous or asynchronous interaction: face-to-face or in disembodied fashion, as an "avatar" expressing an alternate form of individual identity.

Distributed learning shows students that education is integral to all aspects of life, not just schooling. It also shows them that people adept at learning can use many tools for expression and communication, tools scattered throughout their everyday contexts.

Such an instructional approach also builds partnerships for learning among stakeholders in education: teachers and families, colleges and employers. In addition, distributed learning conserves scarce financial resources by maximizing the educational use of information devices (televisions, computers, telephones, video games) in homes and workplaces.

Emerging information technologies make possible an extraordinary range of cognitive, affective, and social "affordances"--enhancements of human capabilities potentially of great power for distributed learning. At the same time they have definite limits for expression and communication.

Much study is needed to develop the new kinds of rhetoric necessary to make these emerging media effective for learning. It will also take much time and effort to design appropriate mixes of information tools and virtual environments for specific groups of learners, particular contents, and given sets of educational goals.

A graduate course on distributed learning I teach illustrates one approach for exploring these issues. …