7 minute read

In this post, I will critique a technology-focused approach to designing multimedia for learning and set out six pedagogically-focused design strategies.

What is a technology-first approach to designing multimedia for learning, and why is it problematic?

The starting point for many uses of multimedia in UK Higher Education is often a desire to use technology, rather than a clearly defined pedagogic rationale (Kirkwood & Price, 2013 ). It is common for multimedia resources to either omit learning outcomes or to have a weak alignment with them. Additionally, these resources often fail to take into account the research on how people cognitively process information and how they learn. There is a default assumption that video and multimedia resources motivate students to engage with learning. However, this is a weak assumption which sees what is often shallow engagement as a proxy for meaningful learning. Robust evaluation of the effectiveness of multimedia is also rare.

How pedagogically effective are rapid e-learning tools such as Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate and H5P?

Designers of interactive forms of multimedia created with rapid e-learning software such as Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate and H5P often base their designs on the features of the software. The result of this approach can be a superficial learning experience where the focus is on clicking objects and drag and drop interactions which do not meaningfully address the learning outcomes. True-false and multiple-choice questions are the other most common components. Both Articulate and Adobe showcase examples that in my view, fit this critique. These forms of cognitively shallow interactivity have limited benefits for learning as they involve recognition rather than retrieval.

For further details, I highly recommend this biting critique of the shallow use of digital and interactive multimedia for learning (Clark, 2018). This summary of the key research findings on using video for learning Clark (2019) is also very useful.

Bower (2017), makes a similar point to Clark: “It is important that we can penetrate past the glossy look-and-feel of technologies to understand what they actually have to offer in terms of educational benefit – that way we can make discerning decisions about which tools are the most appropriate for a given context. Thinking through the action potentials of different technologies allows selection to be based upon explicitly identified learning needs rather than pure intuition or no reasoning at all.”

Critiques from within the digital learning industry

Even within the commercial digital sector, there are criticisms of the quality of instructional design which results from a software-focussed approach to multimedia design. Bozarth (2019) makes the point that rapid e-learning tools are often used by Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who have no instructional or learning design knowledge, and the result is often little more than a badly-designed PowerPoint. Pugh (2019) in a video titled Why I Stopped Using Articulate Storyline explains how he came to feel that he was defaulting to using Storyline for every learning project that came his way despite there often being many other possible solutions.

Designing and developing multimedia for learning is time-consuming and costly

All of this is even more concerning when we consider that developing multimedia for education is usually expensive and time-consuming. Several specialist skills are needed: instructional or learning design, creating and editing audio, video and animation, graphic design, copy-editing, interface design, user experience design and accessibility. Additionally, a project manager is often necessary, and finally, there are the subject matter experts whose time is usually both scarce and precious.

What strategies can help you to design more pedagogically effective multimedia for learning?

The strategies below are from several different but related fields. (1) Cognitive Task Analysis is from the field of Instructional Design. (2) Intended Learning Outcomes and (3) Constructive Alignment are ideas from the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). Advance HE (2016) describe SoTL as a field which focuses on teaching quality and quality enhancement, educational research and “dissemination of analyses of practice to inform others”. (4) Effective strategies for learning and (5) Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning come from cognitive psychology. Weinstein et al. (2019) define cognitive psychology as “the study of the mind, including processes such as perception, attention, and memory”. (6) Instructional Design and Learning Design both aim to provide models and processes which help to design for learning.

  1. Use Cognitive Task Analysis techniques

  2. Cognitive Task Analysis “uses a variety of interview and observation strategies to capture a description of the explicit and implicit knowledge that experts use to perform complex tasks” (Yates & Clark, 2012). It is most commonly used when designing learning for more complex or cognitively higher-order tasks. For a helpful (and concise) summary, see Yates & Clark (2012). For a more detailed explanation, see Clark et al. (2008).

  3. Define Intended Learning Outcomes

  4. Biggs and Collis define SOLO (Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome), as “a means of classifying learning outcomes in terms of their complexity, enabling us to assess students’ work in terms of its quality not of how many bits of this and of that they have got right”. See Biggs & Collis (1982) for a quick introduction. For more detail, try the FutureLearn course Introduction to the SOLO taxonomy.

  5. Follow the principles of Constructive Alignment

  6. Constructive Alignment (Biggs & Tang, 2011), is an outcomes-based approach to learning design. In constructive alignment, you start with the outcomes you intend students to learn and then align learning and assessment activities to those outcomes.

  7. Be informed by the literature on effective strategies for learning

  8. There is substantial research evidence from cognitive psychology supporting six cognitive strategies which are effective for learning and teaching: spaced practice, interleaving, retrieval practice, elaboration, concrete examples, and dual coding. For a helpful (and concise) summary, see Smith & Weinstein (2016) on their excellent Learning Scientists website. For a more detailed explanation, see Weinstein et al. (2018).

    Generative processing

    A useful approach to motivating and engaging learners comes from cognitive psychology and the idea of generative processing (Fiorella & Mayer, 2015).

    Mayer (2018) defines generative processing as “deep cognitive processing required to make sense of the presented material; caused by learner’s motivation to make an effort to learn”. For more on generative processing, see Learning as a Generative Activity: Eight Learning Strategies that Promote Understanding (Fiorella & Mayer, 2015).

  9. Follow the evidence-informed principles of Richard Mayer’s Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning

  10. For an excellent but concise summary, see Donald Clark’s blog post: Mayer & Clark – 10 brilliant design rules for e-learning. For more detail, see Richard Mayer’s 2018 conference presentation. I also highly recommend the seminal book e-Learning and the Science of Instruction (Clark & Mayer, 2016).

  11. Use an Instructional or Learning Design model

Using an Instructional or Learning Design model can help you to define the need for and contextualise the use of multimedia within the larger unit of learning (for example within a particular topic, within a module or at a programme level). Generally speaking, Learning Design models such as UCL’s ABC Learning Design are more high level and open (i.e. ABC LD describes six learning types) and Instructional Design models are more structured and prescriptive.

For specific examples of how an Instructional Design model can inform the design of interactive multimedia, see my synthesis of M. David Merrill’s Component Display Theory. These examples illustrate Merrill’s ideas for teaching the acquisition of facts, part-whole relationships, conceptual knowledgeprocedural knowledge and the teaching of principles.  H5P was used to develop these examples. However, they could have been developed using any similar development tool such as Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate. The choice of software is of secondary importance to the instructional design approach.

Conclusion

Designing and developing multimedia for learning is often a time-consuming, complicated and expensive task. Therefore, it is essential to start with a clear pedagogic rationale and to define specific learning outcomes which link with higher-level ones. Be informed by the research from cognitive psychology on how people cognitively process information and how they learn. Finally, use an Instructional or Learning Design module to define the need for and contextualise the use of multimedia within the larger unit of learning. Using one or more of the six strategies suggested above can help improve the educational effectiveness of multimedia for learning.

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References

Advance HE. (2016). Defining and supporting the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL): A sector-wide study | Advance HE. https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/defining-and-supporting-scholarship-teaching-and-learning-sotl-sector-wide-study

Biggs, J. & Collis K. (1982). SOLO Taxonomy. Retrieved 11 January 2020, from John Biggs website: http://www.johnbiggs.com.au/academic/solo-taxonomy/

Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at University. 4th ed. Maidenhead: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 11 January 2020, from John Biggs’ website: http://www.johnbiggs.com.au/academic/constructive-alignment/

Bower, M. (2017). Design of technology-enhanced learning: integrating research and practice. https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/book/10.1108/9781787141827

Bozarth, J. (2019). Nuts and Bolts: Authoring Tools—Realities and Concerns. Learning Solutions Magazine. https://learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/nuts-and-bolts-authoring-tools-realities-and-concerns

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). E-learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning (Fourth). Wiley.

Clark, D. (2013). Donald Clark Plan B: Mayer & Clark – 10 brilliant design rules for e-learning [Blog]. Retrieved 11 January 2020 from: https://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.com/2013/01/mayer-clark-10-brilliant-design-rules.html

Clark, D. (2018). Donald Clark Plan B: Why is online learning ‘all fur coat and no knickers’? Media-rich is not mind rich [Blog]. Retrieved 11 January 2020 from: https://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.com/2018/03/why-is-online-learning-all-fur-coat-and.html

Clark, D. (2019). Donald Clark Plan B: Video for learning –15 things the research says – some may shock you… [Blog]. Retrieved 11 January 2020 from:
https://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.com/2019/11/video-for-learning-15-things-research.html

Clark, R. E., Feldon, D., van Merriënboer, J. J. G., Yates, K., & Early, S. (2008). Cognitive task analysis. In J. M. Spector, M. D. Merrill, J. J. G. van Merriënboer, & M. P. Driscoll (Eds.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (3rd ed., pp. 577–593). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Retrieved 25 January 2020 from: http://projects.ict.usc.edu/itw/materials/Clark/CTA_Chapter_2007.pdf

Fiorella, L. & Mayer, R. (2015). Learning as a Generative Activity: Eight Learning Strategies that Promote Understanding | Educational psychology | Cambridge University Press. (2015). Retrieved 18 January 2020, from https://www.cambridge.org/vi/academic/subjects/psychology/educational-psychology/learning-generative-activity-eight-learning-strategies-promote-understanding?format=HB

FutureLearn. (2020). Introduction to the SOLO taxonomy [MOOC]. Retrieved 18 January 2020, from FutureLearn website: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/learning-teaching-university/0/steps/26410

Kirkwood, A. & Price, L. (2013). Missing: evidence of a scholarly approach to teaching and learning with technology in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 18(3), 327–337. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2013.773419

Mayer, R. (2018). Research-Based Principles for Designing Multimedia Instruction. CET Teaching with Technology Conference : USC Center for Excellence in Teaching. http://cet.usc.edu/twt/

Pugh, A. (2019). Why I Stopped Using Articulate Storyline. [Video file]. Retrieved 11 January 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJ-4gpf1oYw

Smith, M., & Weinstein, Y. (2016). Six Strategies for Effective Learning [Blog]. The Learning Scientists. https://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/8/18-1

UCL ABC Learning Design. (n.d.). Retrieved 11 January 2020, from https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/abc-ld/

Weinstein, Y., Madan, C. R., & Sumeracki, M. A. (2018). Teaching the science of learning. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 3(1), 2. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41235-017-0087-y

Weinstein, Y., Sumeracki, M., & Caviglioli, O. (2019). Understanding how we learn: a visual guide. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Yates, K. A., & Clark, R. E. (2012). Cognitive task analysis. International Handbook of Student Achievement. New York, Routledge. http://cw.routledge.com/textbooks/eresources/9780415879019/Cognitive_Task_Analysis.pdf

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5 minute read

Merrill’s Pebble-in-the Pond instructional design model focuses primarily on the design phase of the whole instructional development process most commonly referred to as ADDIE. It aims to implement his pedagogically oriented First Principles of Instruction and is based on the idea of successive approximations or cyclical iterations which have a lot in common with agile project management methods such as Scrum. It is also closely related to the whole problem 4C/ID instructional design model advocated by van Merriënboer and Kirschner. Although primarily designed for digital and online learning the Pebble model can also be used to design face-to-face teaching.

Critique of Instructional Design models

The main criticisms of instructional design models are that they are too linear, inflexible and time-consuming and often fail to design effective learning (Gordon & Zemke, 2000). The linear critique has been addressed to some extent by Michael Allen’s Successive Approximation Model (SAM). Merrill offers two additional criticism of traditional ADDIE approaches:

  1. The early specification of instructional objectives which are abstract representations of the knowledge to be taught rather than the knowledge itself lead to translation errors (learning activities and resources which do not align to the objectives).
  2. Abstract descriptions of the learning content and instructional strategies in design documents, storyboards and templates also lead to translation errors.

Wiggins and McTighe (2011) advocate an approach they term ‘backwards design’ which is similar to Merrill’s approach. Their approach also starts with learners’ performance after learning and teaching rather than abstract objectives.

Pebble-in-the-pond instructional design model

The Pebble model assumes a high-level goal, but not detailed objectives and starts from a representation of a whole problem or task which learners will be able to solve or execute following the instruction. This problem-centred approach is very different from many academic courses in UK higher education which provide information-heavy teaching but limited opportunities for application. Merrill advocates working with content (in the form of problems) early on in the instructional design process. Once the problem and related content are identified, then the instructional strategies, learner interactions and assessments are developed in the form of functioning prototypes rather than abstract and descriptive design documents.

Early problems in the progression are demonstrated to learners and as they progress through the problem sequence they are required to engage with more components of the problem and guidance is faded out. Merrill advocates designing a demonstration learning event for the first one or two problems; designing a combination of demonstration and learner application learning events for the next one or two problems and finally designing application for the remaining problems in the sequence. The model concludes with a functional prototype that serves as a specification for the production, implementation, and summative evaluation of the final version.

Pebble in the pond diagram

  1. Identify a problem
  2. The learning design process begins with identifying an instance of a structured or ill-structured real-world problem which learners will learn to solve, rather than with an abstract description of the problem and its solution. Designing an actual portrayal of the problem and a demonstration of its solution is less ambiguous than giving learners an abstract description of the problem. The result of this stage is a functional prototype with demonstration instructional events which show learners the consequence, conditions, and steps required for an instance of the problem.

  3. Design a progression of problems
  4. The second stage involves designing a series of increasingly complex problems that gradually increase in complexity, difficulty, or the number of component skills required to complete the task. Only one or two new components should be introduced for each new problem portrayal. This approach is based on Reigeluth’s Elaboration Theory.

    A skills complexity analysis is a procedure which can be used for sequencing the progression of portrayals from simple to complex determined by the number and type of conditions and steps required for each consequence in the problem progression. The result of this stage is a functional prototype with demonstration and application learning events for each portrayal in the progression which covers all of the integral component skills.

  5. Design instruction for component skills
  6. Next, the component skills specifically required to solve the problem should be identified and reviewed to ensure that, by solving each problem in the progression, learners will acquire all of the intended knowledge and skill required to meet the instructional goals. The result of this stage is a functional prototype with demonstration and application learning events for each component skill.

  7. Design instructional strategy enhancements
  8. (a) Design a structural framework for the problems in the progression. For Merrill, a structural framework is an organisation of previously learned information that learners can use to adapt an existing mental model or to build a new mental model for new content. Examples of structural frameworks include mnemonics, analogies, metaphors and checklists.

    (b) Design opportunities for peer collaboration and critique which help learners to acquire skills and to integrate their new knowledge by being required to reflect on, discuss, or defend their new knowledge or skill.

  9. Finalise the instructional design
  10. Design an appropriate interface, navigation and supporting resources for your functional prototype ready for evaluation, production, and implementation.

  11. Design evaluation

The final stage is to design an evaluation which involves data collection, formative evaluation and prototype revision.

Summary

There are four key properties of Merrill’s Pebble instructional design model:

  1. Oriented around learning principles (First Principles of Instruction) rather than oriented around steps in a traditional instructional design process such as ADDIE.
  2. A content-first approach as it uses the actual learning materials as the primary vehicle for designing learning rather than descriptions of the materials. The content needed for learning is identified near the start of the process, then teacher demonstrations and learner activities are designed and developed.
  3. A problem-centred approach as the learning and teaching activities are embedded in the context of problems to be solved rather than as a set of skills that will eventually be used to solve a problem toward the end of the learning sequence. Seeing a portrayal of an actual problem or task execution and a demonstration of its solution or execution is far more easily understood by learners than an abstract statement (learning outcomes) describing the problem or task.
  4. An iterative prototyping approach as a functional prototype of the learning is the primary design product rather than an abstract design specification. Both instructional designers and learners can see what the learning looks like, the instructional activities, assessment interactions and the interface. Rapidly iterating a prototype also has the advantage of not having to constantly update design specifications which in any case only describe the desired design changes. Lastly, working on a prototype enables formative evaluation by learners which provides valuable feedback which can be used to improve the design before it is implemented in its final form.

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If you have any comment or question, then feel free to tweet or to direct message me:

References

Allen, M. (2012). Agile eLearning Development with SAM | Allen Interactions. Retrieved 8 August 2019, from Allen Interactions website: https://www.alleninteractions.com/sam-process

Clark, D. (2015). History of the ADDIE Model. Retrieved 8 August 2019, from http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/history_isd/addie.html

Gordon, J., & Zemke, R. (2000). The attack on ISD. Training, 37, 43–53. Retrieved 8 August 2019, https://performancexdesign.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/gordon_attack-on-isd.pdf

Kirschner, P., & Neelen, M. (2018, March 20). Complex skills in the workplace and what it means to design for them. Retrieved 6 August 2019, from 3-Star learning experiences website: https://3starlearningexperiences.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/complex-skills-in-the-workplace-and-what-it-means-to-design-for-them/

Merriënboer, J. J. G. V., & Kirschner, P. A. (2018). 4CID.org – About 4C/ID. Retrieved 6 August 2019, from Four-Component Instructional Design (4C/ID) website: https://sites.google.com/view/4cid/about-4cid

Merrill, M. D. (2013). Pebble-in-the-Pond Instructional Design. Retrieved 6 August 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=SUg2u_v56l0

Potter, K. (n.d.). Formative Evaluation. Retrieved 8 August 2019, from Applied Theories of ID website: https://www.itma.vt.edu/courses/appliedid/lesson_10.php

Reigeluth, C. (n.d.). Elaboration Theory. Retrieved 7 March 2019, from InstructionalDesign.org website: https://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/elaboration-theory/

Rimmer, T. (2016). An Introduction to SAM for Instructional Designers. Retrieved 8 August 2019, from E-Learning Heroes website: https://community.articulate.com/articles/an-introduction-to-sam-for-instructional-designers

What is Scrum? (n.d.). Retrieved 13 August 2019, from Scrum.org website: https://www.scrum.org/resources/what-is-scrum

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2011). The Understanding by Design Guide to Creating High-Quality Units. Alexandria, United States: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.