The Benefits of Multimedia Learning Environments in Education
We are in the midst of a seismic transformation in education. While the infusion of technology into all things education is nothing new, the rate of progression over the past 5 years has been particularly exciting. The invention of touch-screen devices and the evolution of mobile operating systems have laid the groundwork for the creation of new-age learning environments.
More specifically, educational publishers and content producers now have an incredible set of tools to create truly engaging, multimedia learning environments. Those of us involved in the development and implementation of these multimedia learning environments recognize that digital products have the potential to impact cognitive learning outcomes in ways traditional textbooks/materials never could.
So what exactly is a multimedia-learning environment? It’s about as far as you can get from a dull, black and white printout about a particular topic. Instead, a multimedia learning environment uses a combination of text, photography, video, audio, animation, all intertwined with interactivity. Black and white is now vivid color, 2D is now 3D, silence is now enhanced with audio, and photos are now reinforced by video. When these different media formats are mashed together, the learning experience becomes sensory. If we can create an experience that activates multiple senses, one in which visual, auditory, and touch work together to digest a subject matter, we can create learning experiences that are emotionally stimulating.
Educational research has long recognized that experiencing positive emotions during the learning process impacts several cognitive processes that are relevant for learning, such as information processing and the creative problem-solving process. In other words, when a student is in a positive emotional state, that student is more likely to transfer new knowledge into long-term memory and is better able to recall this knowledge in test-taking and applied situations. Isn’t it then our duty as educational publishers and curriculum developers to deliver learning experiences that are more prone to provoking positive emotions than not? It’s not as easy as it sounds.
Let’s take a subject matter like Cells. If we were to take text from one source, video from another source, and audio from yet another source, we would be on our way towards creating a multimedia learning environment, right? But when slapped together or merely used in conjunction, these sources don’t necessarily tell a story. It is not enough to simply provide content in these different media formats. Rather, the multimedia environment must integrate design, editorial oversight, pacing, and planning. When is it the appropriate time for reading? When is the appropriate time to layer audio on top of the reading? Should all the video live in one area, or should it be woven into the environment to emphasize key points and reinforce core ideas?
Recently, educational researchers have explored whether it may be possible to induce these positive emotions through how the multimedia environment itself is designed. These various studies have demonstrated that it is possible to use a set of design principals - such as the use of specific color combinations, visual shapes, and interactive elements – to induce these positive emotions critical to learning. Similarly, the way in which various media formats are organized relative to each other can have greater outcomes of inducing positive emotions in the learning environment. In turn, these positive emotions may serve as retrieval cues for other materials in memory and enhance how effectively students’ cognitively organize information.
Taken together, multimedia-learning environments that integrate visual design principles and interactive elements have a direct effect on learning, something not as easily achieved through use of traditional education materials. While empirical evidence is still in its infancy, initial data provide inspiring support for further adoption of multimedia learning environments in education. For educational publishers, curriculum designers, and educators, it’s important that we continue to work together and experiment with new forms of learning. Interactivity for interactivity’s sake is nothing to be celebrated. But when the pieces are put together in such a way that young learners can become excited about the material they are studying, then we have succeeded.
Director of Digital
We are incredibly happy to bring you all this exclusive article from Ted Levine, the CEO for world-renowned educational company Kids Discover (makers of some of our favourite apps!)