Animations as Learning Tools in Authentic Science Materials

By Sperling, Rayne A.; Seyedmonir, Mehdi et al. | International Journal of Instructional Media, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Animations as Learning Tools in Authentic Science Materials


Sperling, Rayne A., Seyedmonir, Mehdi, Aleksic, Maja, Meadows, George, International Journal of Instructional Media


Learners today are exposed to a wide variety of instructional materials. Developers, text companies, and practitioners in schools and industry often turn to computer-based instructional materials to enhance instruction. As others have noted (1, 2), current development capabilities facilitate the inclusion of computer-based enhancements, such as animation, to instructional materials. In addition, calls for the use of animation and other technologies in classrooms (3) promote the development and implementation of animated materials. As several have suggested (l, 4), there are likely times when animation and other enhancements are included in learning materials because the capabilities to do so are available but these additions may not always facilitate successful learning.

Computer-based animation has been included in many types of instructional content domains including: language learning (5, 6), mathematics and statistics (2,7,8), and programming languages (9, 10). A large majority of the research that addresses animation in computer based learning, however, addresses science content materials (1, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20). Expository text that presents science concepts has been a particular target for those examining the effects of animation on learning. This is likely due to the difficulties students have in understanding science concepts and science text. Science texts often need to illustrate relationships within and between concepts. These types of learning materials lend themselves well to instructional manipulation.

In studies of animation as an adjunct to science text materials, the largest systematic body of research is represented by experiments conducted by Mayer and his colleagues (13,14,15,16,17,18). These studies have contributed greatly to our understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of learning from science text and enhancements such as verbal narrations and animations presented via computer.

Constructed from previous work with text-based materials, and this body of research, Mayer and colleagues have promoted a generative theory of multimedia design (21). This theory proposes that materials that facilitate selection, organization, and integration of to-be-learned information are of benefit in designed instruction. This work has addressed learner characteristics, such as prior knowledge, as well as presentation effects of animations and narrations in learning from computer-based expository text materials.

While these works indicate that animation can serve to facilitate learning, there are inconsistencies in existing research studies regarding the learning benefits of computer-based animation (22). Numerous other studies have reported findings that do not support the use of animation in learning materials (1, 9). Rieber (19), for example, noted that animation had been used for motivation and attention but that, at that time, research failed to show learning benefits for animation. In his studies of elementary school children studying Newton's laws, he concluded that animation did not facilitate learning. Similarly, in more recent work with college students, Lai (9) found that animation did not facilitate recall of computer-language learning analogies.

Given inconclusive research results, and the relative ease of development, questions remain for designers and practitioners regarding the benefits of computer-based animation. One area of particular focus for concern was expressed and tested by Reiber (1). In this work, he suggested that animation that serves a decoration function might impede learning as it may distract the learner from relevant to-be-learned information.

This study further examined Reiber's concern and employed the use of animation in science text with college learners. In this study, an effort was made to design instructional materials that took into consideration three main factors. First, an effort was made to be consistent with previous studies that have indicated in controlled settings that animation can enhance learning. …

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