An Investigation of Behaviorist and Cognitive Approaches to Instructional Multimedia Design

Article excerpt

Typically, guidelines for design of interactive multimedia systems have been based on intuitive beliefs of designers rather than being founded on relevant research and theory. As advances in technology create new opportunities for education, it is important to use a range of theoretical perspectives to optimize use of new technology in teaching and learning. This article explores behaviorist and cognitive approaches to interactive multimedia instructional design (ID). Basic concepts, characteristics of ID, and comparisons between each are discussed. Interface design guidelines for learning with multimedia are presented, which link theory with practice in effective multimedia ID. Universal Design for Learning is described, which sheds light on future research in ID to accommodate the diversity of learners.

Major conclusions include that no one theoretical foundation exists for ID practice that is suitable for all applications. Dick and Carey's behaviorist model, Willis' constructivist model, Reigeluth's Elaboration Theory, Keller's ARCS model, Merrill's Instructional Transaction Theory, and Gagne's learning hierarchy illustrate the abundance of theoretical frameworks to assist designers in decision making. Theories continually evolve or are revised as a result of research or critique by designers or theorists in the field. In the long term a blending of behaviorist and cognitive approaches seems inevitable.


Behaviorism and cognitivism are the two dominant theoretical positions in the field of learning with interactive courseware (Jonassen, 1991; Atkins, 1993; Hannafin, Hannafin, Hooper, Rieber, & Kini, 1996). Developments in design of such materials appear to have followed shifts in the dominant paradigms within psychology. Early computer-based materials are seen to be influenced by behaviorist concepts while discovery learning materials are felt to be founded on later cognitive models of information processing and constructivism. The increase in cognitive approaches in the 1980s may be due as much to technology developments in object-oriented programming, hypermedia, and interactive video as to the rise within psychology of cognitive theorists (Atkins, 1993).

Designers are adopting a mixed approach to design because it offers complete flexibility (Atkins, 1993). For example, some business and industry designers reveal a blending of analysis and evaluation of the objectivist approach with simulations and individualized progress of constructivist approaches (Dick, 1996). Typically, however, guidelines for design of interactive multimedia systems have been based on intuitive beliefs of designers rather than being founded on relevant psychological, pedagogical, and technological research and theory (Hannafin & Hooper, 1989; Park & Hannafin, 1993; Spiro, Feltovich, Jacobson, & Coulson, 1991).

Intuition and creativity have played major roles in the development and implementation of constructivist learning environments (Dick, 1997) for a reason. Until the appearance of the Recursive and Reflective, Design and Development (R2D2) model by Willis (1995), there had been almost no articles detailing explicit alternatives to the Dick and Carey objectivist model to help designers create instructional materials based on constructivist theory. The Dick and Carey model, which is in its fifth edition (Dick, Carey, & Carey, 2001), has been the leading behavioral instructional systems design model (Willis, 1995; Willis & Wright, 2000) since it became public in 1968.

Park and Hannafin (1993) indicated that the psychological foundation, in general, focuses on how learners think, learn, and process information and is largely media-independent. This foundation is based on research and theory on meaningful learning, schema theory, prior knowledge, hierarchical cognitive structure, elaboration, depth of processing, generative learning, situated learning, conceptual models and metaphors, and dual coding theory. …


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.