A Quest to Media Effect in Learning


The influence of media in learning has provided basis for researchers and practitioners to a quest towards certain targeted media where learning experience is determined by the active interaction between media and the learners. It is still a quest because research about media and instructional technology which related to media studies has yet providing consistent findings about the effect of media to learning. Several research present findings that support positive effect from media while several others did otherwise: the absence of effect to learning or even the presence of the negative effect to learning.

Surrounding the inconsistent notion from previous and current research as such will give us a flashback to a sharp debate between Richard Clark and Robert. B. Kozma. What is interesting in this debate is how Clark through his published first article Reconsidering Research on Learning from Media in 1983 started his hypothesis that media does not influence learning. Eight years later in 1991, Kozma responded to Clark’s claims through his article entitled Learning with Media where he summarized research related to “media attributes working in conjunction with learning methods to influence the way learner’s information processing (Clark 2001, p. 137 – 138). From here, Kozma elaborated his key ideas that media has evolved in such away where it gives a whole new paradigm to learning where he further expands Clark’s previous claim into a more context-based question “in what ways can we use the capabilities of media to influence learning for particular students, tasks, and situation? (Clark 2001, p. 195)”

Along with the development of technology and its variety of application in learning combined with how the new paradigm of learning has been evolving as new generation termed as digital natives have contributed to how teaching and learning in the 21st century is being practiced, I personally believe that the influence of media is no longer a “vehicle” as what Clark aforementioned, in fact, it has become an active formula that has vastly infused as a complementary instrument towards learning. According to Jonassen, et al (1999) and Hede (2002) asserts that if a channel serves a function as a complementary instrument towards the delivered information, it indicates to the learning improvement. Adding to that, Kozma emphasizes on learning as the active process that enables media to interact with learners in compliance with the instructional strategy/method to construct knowledge. In advance, Kozma points out to the ability of learners in actively managing their learning process by extracting information stored in long term memory and integrating new information with it to construct knowledge (Clark, 2001).

Redefining the media effect to learning, we need to, as well, redefine the way this issue is perceived. The way the media is perceived as to having effect and influence in learning is by having a notion from Kozma’s view that “various aspects of the learning process are influenced by the cognitively relevant characteristics of media: their technologies, symbol systems, and processing capabilities” (Clark, 2001, p. 170). Concurrently, these media characteristics are assistive elements in which they describe and distinguish it from variety of media where media users associate and interact to help them constructing a mental model for each of the information existing in their knowledge as what Kozma (1991) has formulated in his study:
“Learning with media [is] a complementary process within which representations are constructed and procedures performed, sometimes by the learner and sometimes by the medium.” Media embody certain characteristics that “interact with learner and task characteristics to influence the . . . structure, formation, and modification of mental models.” (p. 179).

Following this framework, particular media formats (e.g., books and magazines, video media, computer software, and multimedia) possess particular characteristics that make them both more and less suitable for the accomplishment of certain kinds of learning tasks. It is through these characteristics that learning has not just been influenced but also transforming the capabilities of a particular medium to create variety of learning experience that can interact and facilitate with variety of learner’s characteristics. Therefore, Kozma contends that learner processes information in different ways and the characteristics of a medium can facilitate that process depending on the medium, task, and learner’s preferences.

As to illustrate the interaction between media and learners/users, there are three prominent medium used nowadays to assist learners in learning – book, television, and computer & multimedia. Each of these medium has unique characteristics from which technology, symbol system, and processing capabilities reside. Therefore, these determinants will create a form of interaction that proves its active capability to interact with learners in learning.

A book as a medium of learning is primarily characterized by stability (as technology); printed text, pictures, and graphics (as symbol systems); and reading (as the specific processing capability). Constructed by these features as a medium, book is able to provide a form of interaction where learners assimilate new information by reading through printed text, pictures, and graphics in a stable manner. This stability has significant implication to the way learners who have little prior knowledge of the topic, process the information – giving aids in constructing meaning and elaborating mental model (Bazerman, 1985). Likewise, according to Pressley (1979), the stability of the medium allows the kind of serial, sequential, back-and forth processing between specific information in the text and components of the pictures that facilitates the construction and elaboration of mental models.

Compared to a book, television enables learners to give various and unpredictable ways of responding through attention pacing. Several researches indicate that visual attention increases from very low levels during infancy to a maximum in the late elementary school years and that the nature of this attention is influenced by several factors (Anderson, 1986). As equally important, learners are able to interact with processing capabilities that television has: audio and visual cues (audio and sound effects – auditory changes; visual effect – pan, zoom, colors; etc). As an example, man’s voices heard from a television may be perceived as having an adult-oriented content and therefore less interesting and meaningful to children compared to funny audio sound or childlike voices (Huston & Wright, 1983).

Conversely, television has another case when it comes to its effect on learning. As a medium, television has certain characteristics that prominently provide another genre of interaction procession with learners that may affect their cognitive structures and processes: the symbol system and its transient nature in which it gives different effect to way learners creating their mental representation. In this way, Greeno (1986) explains the effect of transient nature of television with mental modeling of learners:
Mental models are themselves dynamic, since they include mechanisms for moving from one representation of information to another. Because of this dynamism, the moving, transient nature of video presentations may help learners build the dynamic properties of their mental models.

Different from the previous two mediums, computer has wider range of features where it can interact with learners in a higher level – the ability to process symbol and symbol system.

Dickson further describes how computer “proceduralizes” information:
A computer can operate on symbols according to specified rules: for example, it can rotate a graphic object on the screen according to the laws of physics. Through both functions, a computer can help students construct links between symbolic domains—like graphs and equations—and the real-world phenomena they represent. So it is the processing capabilities of the computer, rather than its symbol systems per se, that enable this medium to make its primary contribution to students’ construction of their mental models (1985).

In other words, computer is a medium whose characteristics are able to help learners making connection with real-world situation. What is more, as what Larkin has reported in the field of Physics, computer’s characteristics as a medium happens to assist novice learners to build and refine mental models to be more like those of experts (1980). Thus, the processing capabilities of the computer can influence the mental representations and cognitive processes of learners. Their transformation capabilities can connect symbolic expressions (such as graphs) to the actual world. Their proceduralizing capabilities can allow students to manipulate dynamic, symbolic representations of abstract, formal constructs that are frequently missing from their mental models in order to construct more accurate and complete mental representations of complex phenomena.

Observing today’s media mainstream, multimedia is more prevalent in use and practices for learning and educational purposes as “summarizing” the media effect in learning presented by its predecessors such as book, television, or computer. To put it another way, multimedia has become a new form of media where variety of media are used, collaborated, and combined as a response to the ubiquitous information in digital era as it is now. In specific, Spiro & Jehng (1990) describe the distinctive characteristics of multimedia that is capable of interacting with learners:
Hypermedia shares the technology and symbol systems of interactive video environments but embodies processing capabilities that suggest an important difference for learning. The nonlinearity of hypermedia—that is, the capability of this technology to allow learners to create associational links within and across text, images, and other symbol systems—facilitates cognitive flexibility to allow a topic to be explored in multiple ways using a number of different concepts and themes.

The exploration of using multimedia/hypermedia as an assistive medium to facilitate learners is expected to result in the development of integrated and flexible knowledge structures. In fact, Richard E. Mayer’s cognitive theory of multimedia learning suggests that the process of selecting, organizing, and integrating as basic kinds of cognitive process will result in meaningful learning because learners seek to make sense of the material presented by building coherent mental representation in which multimedia enables them to use various cognitive coding system to represent knowledge, such as verbal and pictorial knowledge representation (1996, 1997, 2001).

Across the bridge of this media debate, there are two claims provided by Wilbur Schramm (1977) and Howard Levie (1973) in which both agree that media have differential economic benefits but no learning benefits and that learning is influenced more by the content and instructional strategy in a medium than by the type of the medium. Referring to this viewpoint, it seems to me that Clark and other supporters in no-media effect have positioned themselves in a way that instructional methods are different from instructional media. Whereas Kozma and his followers in media-has-effects have juxtaposed instructional methods and media as a complimentary unit that is interconnected and interact to one and another in a way that it affects learning.

Other than viewing media as a vehicle or medical action, I would rather perceive instructional method and media as a painting or sculpture. In a painting, the choice of medium is significant to meet the desired look of the painting – canvas, papers, wood, cloth, etc. This choice of medium will then determine what attributes used to create a picture/pattern – acrylic, dry pastel, ink, oil, spray, water color-based paint, etc. Certainly that every attribute will response differently towards the medium as well as the medium does. Therefore, to create the desired form of painting that meet the need of say, a client, an artist should realize that the result of his/her painting will be determined by the type of medium, the attributes of apparatus (paint, color), and the painting itself (nature, self-portrait, abstract, etc). The same fashion goes the same with sculpture: the medium affects the way the sculpture is treated within the level of enjoyment (outdoor, indoor, placed on the shelf, on a table, etc).

This way of viewing media effect where the type of media do influence learning goes along Kozma (1991), Bazerman (1985), Pressley (1979), Huston & Wright (1983), Greeno (1986), Spiro & Jehng (1990), Larkin (1980), Anderson (1986), Dickson (1985) and Mayer (1996, 1997, 2001) in which all of them agree upon the notion that media type interact with learners in a way that it serves as a medium to create mental model/representation that in turns helping learners to construct knowledge and comprehension towards particular information.

In brief, media is beneficial to the way learners transform their abstract ideas into concrete and meaningful information and knowledge.

Anderson, Daniel (Eds), (1986). “Television Viewing at Horne: Age Trends in Visual Attention and Time with Television,” Child Development 57, 1024-33.
Bazerman, Charles. (1985), “Physicists Reading Physics,” Written Communication, 2, 3–23.
Greeno. (1986). “Situations, Mental Models, and Generative Knowledge”; in John Holland and others, Induction: Processes of Inference, Learning, and Discovery (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press
Huston Aletha & Wright. John (1983). “Children’s Processing of Television: The Information Functions of Formal Features,” in Children’s Understanding of Television, ed. Jennings Bryan and Daniel Anderson. New York: Academic
Kozma, R. B. (1991). Learning with media. Review of Educational Research, 61(2), 179–212.
Larkin, Jill. (1980). “The Role of Problem Representation in Physics,” in Genter and Stevens, Mental Models; Jill Larkin and others, “Expert and Novice Performance in Solving Physics Problems,” Science 208, 1335-42.
Levie, W. H. & Dickie, K. (1973). The analysis and application of media. In R. Travers (Ed.), The second handbook of research on teaching. Chicago: Rand McNally.
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Mayer, R.E. (1997). Multimedia learning: Are we asking the right questions? Educational psychologist, 32, 1-19
Mayer, R.E. (2001) Multimedia learning. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press
Pressley, M. (1977). Imagery & children’s learning: putting the picture in developmental perspective. Review of Educational Research. 47, 586-622
Rand Spiro and Jihn-Chang Jehng, “Cognitive Flexibility and Hypertext: Theory and Technology for the Non-linear and Multidimensional Traversal of Complex Subject Matter,” Cognition, Education, and Multimedia, ed. Don Nix and Rand Spiro (Hillsdale, NJ.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1990).
Schramm, W. (1977). Big media, little media. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications
W. Patrick Dickson, “Thought-provoking Software: Juxtaposing Symbol Systems,” Educational Researcher 14 (May 1985): 30–38.


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