Academic journal article Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia

Instructional Media Choice: Factors Affecting the Preferences of Distance Education Coordinators

Academic journal article Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia

Instructional Media Choice: Factors Affecting the Preferences of Distance Education Coordinators

Article excerpt

This article examines the impact of several variables on media choice among 51 distance education course coordinators at the Open University of Israel. Hypotheses were drawn from Media Richness Theory (Daft & Lengel, 1984), Social Influence Theory (Fulk, 1993), Media Symbolism (Trevino, Lengel & Daft, 1987), and Experience Account (King & Xia, 1997), along with research questions about the influence of additional contextual variables. It was found that prior skill has a significant and meaningful impact on media choice and that both social influence and medium richness correlate with media choice. However, contrary to theoretical predictions, media richness and media symbolism did not correlate with perceived levels of equivocality in a message.


Modern communication technologies, especially cellular and computer mediated, provide important and useful alternatives for linking faculty and students at campus-based and distance universities. In traditional distance education programs, instructors and students have limited opportunity to meet personally and interpersonal communication is generally mediated, often through telephone and postal services. Over the past decade, the use of Internet-based technologies has increased, thereby enabling instructors and students to choose from a wide range of diverse and readily available communication media such as email, synchronous and asynchronous discussion groups, etc.

To date, the issue of media choice has been investigated mainly in business organizations, especially from the managerial point of view (Daft & Lengel, 1984, 1986; Daft, Lengel & Trevino, 1987; Rice, 1992; Steinfeild, 1986; Trevino, Lengel & Daft, 1987; Trevino, Webster & Stein, 2000). The question generally asked of managers was, "Given a specific message, what is the most appropriate medium for transacting that message?"

In the realm of education, pioneer work was carried out by Irmer and Bordia (2003) who investigated the multiple determinants underlying campus-based students' media preferences for consulting with teaching staff. They examined the effect of task equivocality, contextual variables and symbolic meanings attached to media choice. They found that students had "... a clear and distinct preference for in-person meetings to resolve their communication needs" (p. 56).

This article addresses similar issues, but from the course coordinator's point of view. In this study, course coordinators at the Open University of Israel were surveyed as to which media they would choose in order to transact a specific message type with students given the freedom to do so with no institutional restrictions. In doing so, the factors that influence course coordinators' choice of media are categorized and ranked according to importance. As in Irmer and Bordia's (2003) work, the issue of media choice is based on preference, rather than on actual media usage.

Media Choice--Theory and Research

Media Richness Theory (Daft & Lengel, 1984, 1986; Daft, Lengel & Trevino, 1987) attempts to describe the conditions under which a specific medium is chosen for communication. The theory assumes a rational selection process that matches media choice with levels of uncertainty and equivocality. Uncertainty refers to a state experienced by an individual when information is insufficient or altogether absent (Garner, 1962); it may be reduced through the exchange of accurate, relevant and sufficient amounts of data through the use of appropriate media. Equivocality refers to ambiguity inherent within information itself (Daft & Lengel, 1986); it becomes manifest when communicators interact from different frames of reference. Equivocality may be reduced through the clarification and explication of data via appropriate media. The mere provision of data does not necessarily reduce equivocality.

Daft and Lengel (1984, 1986) and Daft, Lengel & Trevino (1987) proposed that media differ in the amount of "rich" information they can convey. …

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