by Amy Taylor
I previously blogged about Richard Mayer’s Multimedia Learning, and I’m back in the new year to continue. Mayer continues his introductory materials in chapters 2 and 3, focusing on instruction and learning theories.
What is instruction? What should we be trying to do when we stand up in front of our students or create an asynchronous lesson? We create a learning environment and then promote experiences that lead to learning (p.30). I like this definition for a couple of reasons. One is that it makes me realize that we are not responsible for a student’s mental processing. We design, we teach, we encourage, but “….lead to learning” means that we can’t learn for our students. Phew! Another reason is that this definition is practical. All of the amazing teachers I have learned from have had a certain something, and while I’m sure some of it can be chalked up to sheer charisma, Mayer conveys hope. With the right design and execution, accomplished instruction is within my grasp.
Meyer summarizes the research underlying how we learn into three factors: dual channels, limited capacity, and active processing (p. 62). We use both visual and auditory channels to process information, but our capacity to do so is not unlimited. Cognitive capacity can be measured using a memory span test: I read a list of digits to you or show you a series of images (apple, pig, book, etc.), and you recite them back to me. The average memory span is 5-7 chunks of information, though we can learn techniques the help us increase this number (pp. 64-67).
Before we create or design learning environments, it helps to understand how we actively process information. First, we take in information through our eyes and ears and add selected words and images to our working memory (steps 1 and 2); then we organize the words and images into verbal and pictorial models (steps 3 and 4); and, finally, we integrate these verbal and pictorial models with each other and with our prior knowledge (p. 61). Good instructional design facilitates this by clearing the chaff and leaving time and space for our cognitive work. In contrast, poor instructional design takes up cognitive processing that could have been used for selecting, organizing and integrating (p. 80).
The next section of Mayer’s book focuses on five instructional design features that reduce extraneous cognitive processing: coherence; signaling; redundancy; spatial contiguity; and temporal contiguity. I’ll explore Meyer’s findings in my next blog post.