Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

A Cognitive Approach to Instructional Design for Multimedia Learning

Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

A Cognitive Approach to Instructional Design for Multimedia Learning

Article excerpt


Cognitive theory is borne from the relatively new interdisciplinary field of cognitive science. Cognitive science studies the nature of the mind by drawing from research in a number of areas including psychology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, computer science, linguistics, philosophy, and biology. The term cognitive refers to perceiving and knowing, and cognitive scientists seek to understand mental processes such as perceiving, thinking, remembering, understanding language, and learning (Stillings, Weisler, Chase, Feinstein, Garfield, & Rissland, 1995). As such, cognitive science can provide powerful insight into human nature, and, more importantly, the potential of humans to develop increasingly powerful information technologies.

This paper addresses the problem that much of what we are currently seeing in multimedia instruction instruction may actually hinder the learning that it claims to promote and then discusses possible ways to improve it. I introduce several well-known assumptions of cognitive science, which provide a framework for applying empirical theories of cognition and learning that improve multimedia instruction and assist humans in learning more effectively. The cognitive theories discussed in the paper include the Theory of Working Memory, Dual Encoding Theory, Cognitive Load Theory, ACT-R Production System Theory, and the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning. Since most instructors have either already been tasked with creating multimedia instruction, or soon will be, this paper is aimed as much at the general practitioner of multimedia instruction as it is the experienced e-learning developer.

Popular forms of multimedia instruction, such as online learning and the more inclusive computer-based training (CBT), have created many new possibilities for education. They provide new ways of delivering content, and they often promote learner-centered environments that can motivate students and add variety to learning. In this environment, instructional units are often accompanied by a liberal use of multimedia that is intended to add excitement to the lesson and hold the learner's attention. However, visual and auditory components that are intended to stimulate rather than educate do not always make for sound instructional design in multimedia delivery and can quickly become counter-productive to learning.

The human mind is limited in the amount of information that it can process (Miller, 1956). Because computer-based training can quickly overwhelm these limited capacities (Sweller, 1988, 1994), it becomes important for the instructional designer to understand the principles of cognitive science and how they apply to effective instructional design for online learning. Concepts, such as working memory, cognitive load, production system theories of knowledge and learning, self-explaining behaviors, and transfer, all become important considerations for the instructional designer who must learn to use technology effectively and intelligently, rather than simply because it is available and seems flashy or exciting.

This is especially relevant as education begins to turn to gaming as the latest innovative technology that some educators claim will revolutionize learning. Proponents of gaming in education, however, should remember that similar predictions were made for mimeograph machines, overhead projectors, movies, radios, television, and the computer, only to produce disappointing results after considerable expenditures of money (Cuban, 1996, 2001). One concern should be that using video games as an educational medium may actually decrease learning in comparison to simply presenting the information in a straightforward manner using text and pictures.

Until recently, much of what we have seen in multimedia instructional design appears to be based more on intuition than empirically-based research. For example, it might seem that an online activity that uses flashy multimedia and game-like strategies to hold a learner's attention is good. …

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