The Value of Multimedia in E-Learning

September 8, 2008

Al Moser trashes voice over PowerPoint in this blog post about using multimedia in eLearning. He feels audio is a weak solution because it reduces knowledge retention, reduces productivity, reduces accessibility, and removes searchability. He concludes by saying recorded VIDEO sucks. (I think he means boring videos suck not all videos).  I believe Al is making this about the tool (PowerPoint + audio) when he should be talking about the method and the quality of instruction. The simplest tools, in the hands of an artisan, can make a masterpiece.

On issue one: does audio in e-learning reduce knowledge retention? I turn to Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard Mayer’s book “eLearning and the Science of Instruction.”

Clark and Mayer found that “people learn more deeply from multimedia lessons when words explaining concurrent animations or graphics are presented as speech rather than onscreen text.” They call this the modality effect. The study is not one of reading text from PowerPoint slides but the study included (among several comparisons) an iteration where narration and onscreen text were identical. In short, the researchers recommended the use of spoken rather than printed words in multimedia messages containing graphics with related descriptive words. The animation and narration groups generated between 41 – 114% more solutions than the animation and onscreen text group, evn though both groups received identical animation and words.

On issue two: does audio with eLearning reduce productivity? Al compares the time to read vs. the time to listen. I have to wonder if he’s just measuring ‘seat time’ vs. value. It’s like saying I should only communicate via text message vs. phone call because it’s faster.  I’m baffled by this reasoning.

On issue three: does audio reduce accessibility? The point being made here is that a course that is linear in nature does not give the learner opportunities to explore other areas. I think a case can be made for both the value of a linear path and the value of a more learner-controlled environment. If I’m step-by-step fixing the gazillion dollar Hubble telescope, I want a step-by-step tutorial damnit. A job aid. An expert on the other end of the phone. Video. Better. A simulator. I digress.

On issue four: audio removes searchability. I think Al is saying here that ppt to flash courses may not be searchable due to the limitations of the software.

On issue five: Putting boring video on-line doesn’t make it any less boring, it just makes it easier to turn off. I agree!

Perhaps I’m just a match waiting to get lit today but this just doesn’t hit the mark on the use of multimedia in e-learning.

My own experience – once you have been exposed to proper use of multimedia in a course, you want it always and once you design it that way, they’ll always want it.Hats off to the crafters and artisans.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/tomwerner Tom Werner

    Hi Janet, I sense this new instructional-design sensibility out there that the learner shouldn’t have to endure any audio or video, that nothing should impede the learner’s ability to browse freely around the content, that ‘linear’ is bad.

    I think the habit that we all have from Google — search, quickly land on a page, check it out, quickly leave, and go to another page — has quietly been morphed into a full-fledged instructional-design principle.

    I find this troubling.

    If I present you with real-world scenarios from your workplace — with video and audio — and ask you to react to them, how can that automatically be bad instruction simply because you have to watch that video/audio?

    Conversely, is good content only that with short, browsable text without any audio or video? If so, Wikipedia would be the one and only ideal content model that everyone should follow.

    Tom Werners last blog post..Some Advantages and Disadvantages of Second Life for Workplace Learning

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/tomwerner Tom Werner

    Hi Janet, I sense this new instructional-design sensibility out there that the learner shouldn’t have to endure any audio or video, that nothing should impede the learner’s ability to browse freely around the content, that ‘linear’ is bad.

    I think the habit that we all have from Google — search, quickly land on a page, check it out, quickly leave, and go to another page — has quietly been morphed into a full-fledged instructional-design principle.

    I find this troubling.

    If I present you with real-world scenarios from your workplace — with video and audio — and ask you to react to them, how can that automatically be bad instruction simply because you have to watch that video/audio?

    Conversely, is good content only that with short, browsable text without any audio or video? If so, Wikipedia would be the one and only ideal content model that everyone should follow.

    Tom Werners last blog post..Some Advantages and Disadvantages of Second Life for Workplace Learning

  • http://blog.cathy-moore.com Cathy Moore

    I think part of the problem is that we’re not making clear distinctions between performance support (a reference or other tool I use on the job) and a “course” (something I go through once to learn the stuff that has to stay in my head).

    If we expect a course to double as a reference, then I agree that narration can be a problem, especially when navigation is also restricted, as it often is in the courses I see.

    If I’m in the middle of a task and need to review info that appears halfway through a 5-minute narrated animation, I have to navigate to that part of the course and sit there for 2.5 minutes (an eternity these days) just to get to the one bit I wanted to hear. How likely am I to do that on the job? I’m more likely to just guess and possibly guess wrong.

    Instead, during the design phase we need to clearly identify what info should live outside the course in a reference and what should go inside.

    If I had my way, the stuff that goes inside the course would be only the stuff that learners have to know cold on the job. The best media approach for that depends on the content, the learners, etc. etc. Maybe it’s animation with narration; maybe it’s something else.

    For an outside-the-course reference, short, browsable text is often the quickest to use and easiest to update. If a narrated animation really *is* useful in a reference because it shows the process most effectively, it should be easily skimmable (a scrub bar or fast-forward button) so someone who’s looking for just one bit can quickly get to that one bit. The harder a reference is to use, the less likely people are to use it.

    Finally, narration of any kind is often a bore to me because the script is poorly written–the narration takes dry and pompous text and slows… it… down… to… a… crawl.

    Cathy Moores last blog post..Quick links for your coffee break

  • http://blog.cathy-moore.com Cathy Moore

    I think part of the problem is that we’re not making clear distinctions between performance support (a reference or other tool I use on the job) and a “course” (something I go through once to learn the stuff that has to stay in my head).

    If we expect a course to double as a reference, then I agree that narration can be a problem, especially when navigation is also restricted, as it often is in the courses I see.

    If I’m in the middle of a task and need to review info that appears halfway through a 5-minute narrated animation, I have to navigate to that part of the course and sit there for 2.5 minutes (an eternity these days) just to get to the one bit I wanted to hear. How likely am I to do that on the job? I’m more likely to just guess and possibly guess wrong.

    Instead, during the design phase we need to clearly identify what info should live outside the course in a reference and what should go inside.

    If I had my way, the stuff that goes inside the course would be only the stuff that learners have to know cold on the job. The best media approach for that depends on the content, the learners, etc. etc. Maybe it’s animation with narration; maybe it’s something else.

    For an outside-the-course reference, short, browsable text is often the quickest to use and easiest to update. If a narrated animation really *is* useful in a reference because it shows the process most effectively, it should be easily skimmable (a scrub bar or fast-forward button) so someone who’s looking for just one bit can quickly get to that one bit. The harder a reference is to use, the less likely people are to use it.

    Finally, narration of any kind is often a bore to me because the script is poorly written–the narration takes dry and pompous text and slows… it… down… to… a… crawl.

    Cathy Moores last blog post..Quick links for your coffee break

  • http://blog.cathy-moore.com Cathy Moore

    One more point: Ruth Clark et al. were talking about narration that explained a *meaningful* graphic. For example, a course showed an image of a storm and explained what was going on in the storm.

    What I’ve seen in some elearning is narration with eye candy–a bland stock photo of a “business person” or, worse, moving abstract images that have little or nothing to do with the info being narrated. Maybe it’s my own personal glitch, but I come out of that with no idea of what I just supposedly learned.

    Clark et al. also have a “redundancy” principle that warns against reading text on the screen to the learner.

    Cathy Moores last blog post..Quick links for your coffee break

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Hi Cathy-
    Excellent points. I think when you boil this down it becomes one of just good instructional design. What will work best for this particular problem with this particular group in this particular environment, with these resources, etc.
    Do I just need an email, a course, a job aid, etc.
    I’ve been exposed to listening to someone read redundant text on the screen, and well-written scripts within a course backed by on-the-job performance support.

    One thing I didn’t mention here were geographical/language issues. Sometimes, for someone who’s primary language is not the same as what is presented in the course, hearing is easier than reading.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Hi Cathy-
    Excellent points. I think when you boil this down it becomes one of just good instructional design. What will work best for this particular problem with this particular group in this particular environment, with these resources, etc.
    Do I just need an email, a course, a job aid, etc.
    I’ve been exposed to listening to someone read redundant text on the screen, and well-written scripts within a course backed by on-the-job performance support.

    One thing I didn’t mention here were geographical/language issues. Sometimes, for someone who’s primary language is not the same as what is presented in the course, hearing is easier than reading.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Hi Tom-
    It is troubling. It strikes me as a take-sides issue sometimes. I can imagine myself in the workplace saying well, I’m reading here that audio and video suck…or, courses suck. So I guess I’ll just put 100 links here and let people have at it…I’m sure they will collaborate and share, etc.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Hi Tom-
    It is troubling. It strikes me as a take-sides issue sometimes. I can imagine myself in the workplace saying well, I’m reading here that audio and video suck…or, courses suck. So I guess I’ll just put 100 links here and let people have at it…I’m sure they will collaborate and share, etc.

  • Brian

    Another case of:
    Pick the right tool for the job at hand.

    Another case of:
    Select media and approaches that fit your budgets of time, money, resources and the target audience.

    Another case of:
    Choose insturctional media that ‘fit the subject and content’ well.

    I agree with Janet…it’s really difficult to measure learning transfer ‘in general’. To be valid, one needs more specific ‘objectives’ and different sample groups.

    I.E. In comparing two 60 minute guilt sewing courses with three sample groups of 30 female learners ages 30-60……
    -stats and observations go here

    Then again, blogs aren’t meant to be studies per se. They get us worked up so maybe someone will do a ‘real study’ on the topic 😉

    Thanks again Janet for neat stuff to think about and discuss.

  • Brian

    Another case of:
    Pick the right tool for the job at hand.

    Another case of:
    Select media and approaches that fit your budgets of time, money, resources and the target audience.

    Another case of:
    Choose insturctional media that ‘fit the subject and content’ well.

    I agree with Janet…it’s really difficult to measure learning transfer ‘in general’. To be valid, one needs more specific ‘objectives’ and different sample groups.

    I.E. In comparing two 60 minute guilt sewing courses with three sample groups of 30 female learners ages 30-60……
    -stats and observations go here

    Then again, blogs aren’t meant to be studies per se. They get us worked up so maybe someone will do a ‘real study’ on the topic 😉

    Thanks again Janet for neat stuff to think about and discuss.

  • Brian

    Was just wondering…..

    When assessing ‘knowledge retention’ or ‘transfer of learning’, we often miss the mark.

    A good test or assessment that gives an accurate picture of what a learner truly retains is a major challenge.

    We really do need to be careful when it comes to conclusions about our learners:

    Case in point:
    5 ship yard employees were pushed into a training program. All of the assessments came back and rated these five as the poorest employees in the whole ship yard. They were laid off.

    Two weeks later: Every weld done since did not pass inspection!

    Turns out: The 5 employees who rated poorly in the assessments were the best welders in the whole ship yard. Sadly, the ‘test’ assessed their ‘materials engineering knowledge’, and not their ability to weld. The course itself however, DID have a positive influence on ship yard performance. These 5 welders in question came out of the course welding faster, and using about 10% less energy (gas/welding rods) per task.

    Another case of a good course with a bad assessment.

    Think carefully about how an assessment fits together with chosen objectives, instructional media, and even the individual learner. Just because they flop on a test, it does not mean they did not learn anything. In fact, they may have retained MORE than those at the top of the class.

  • Brian

    Was just wondering…..

    When assessing ‘knowledge retention’ or ‘transfer of learning’, we often miss the mark.

    A good test or assessment that gives an accurate picture of what a learner truly retains is a major challenge.

    We really do need to be careful when it comes to conclusions about our learners:

    Case in point:
    5 ship yard employees were pushed into a training program. All of the assessments came back and rated these five as the poorest employees in the whole ship yard. They were laid off.

    Two weeks later: Every weld done since did not pass inspection!

    Turns out: The 5 employees who rated poorly in the assessments were the best welders in the whole ship yard. Sadly, the ‘test’ assessed their ‘materials engineering knowledge’, and not their ability to weld. The course itself however, DID have a positive influence on ship yard performance. These 5 welders in question came out of the course welding faster, and using about 10% less energy (gas/welding rods) per task.

    Another case of a good course with a bad assessment.

    Think carefully about how an assessment fits together with chosen objectives, instructional media, and even the individual learner. Just because they flop on a test, it does not mean they did not learn anything. In fact, they may have retained MORE than those at the top of the class.

  • Brian

    Just thought of something on the ‘search’ issue.

    Fill out the meta-tags 😉

    Also, it’s not terribly difficult to set ‘cue points’ within the tag structure of nearly all popular audio formats (mp3, aac, mp4, ogg, wma).

    On one hand, it can add another step to the production process…add a slight cost layer. On the other hand, there needs to be transcripts and good documentation for the design and production process anyway. Who wants to meet stakeholders without a good story board at hand? Alot of this work should already be done for the producer…..

    Good producers are supposed to document content and edits anyway…little meta dialogues for each edit where all sorts of info can be put in such as…..photographer/artist….producer id, timing info, short content descriptions, titles, copyright info for ‘library sources’, and the list goes on as to what the ‘pre master’ production cuts should contian. Coders also document code, and the list goes on.

    Case:
    Multi media files can be made quite ‘searchable’. Almost as well as plain text.

    Browseable? In that instance, Moser is correct. “Reference” and “Aid” material may well be best left to text like definitions with simple still graphics or short animations where needed.

  • Brian

    Just thought of something on the ‘search’ issue.

    Fill out the meta-tags 😉

    Also, it’s not terribly difficult to set ‘cue points’ within the tag structure of nearly all popular audio formats (mp3, aac, mp4, ogg, wma).

    On one hand, it can add another step to the production process…add a slight cost layer. On the other hand, there needs to be transcripts and good documentation for the design and production process anyway. Who wants to meet stakeholders without a good story board at hand? Alot of this work should already be done for the producer…..

    Good producers are supposed to document content and edits anyway…little meta dialogues for each edit where all sorts of info can be put in such as…..photographer/artist….producer id, timing info, short content descriptions, titles, copyright info for ‘library sources’, and the list goes on as to what the ‘pre master’ production cuts should contian. Coders also document code, and the list goes on.

    Case:
    Multi media files can be made quite ‘searchable’. Almost as well as plain text.

    Browseable? In that instance, Moser is correct. “Reference” and “Aid” material may well be best left to text like definitions with simple still graphics or short animations where needed.

  • Pingback: Learning Pulse | Xyleme Learning Blog()

  • Emma King

    I agree with all points made above, especially regarding narration and video being laborious when we have to use the fast forward button to find the exact location.

    I used to be of the opinion that if narration and video was segmented properly, based upon sensible topical breaks in the materials, then surely we should be able to link to exact segments of materials? Unfortunately this requires extensive skills sets and a lot of man hours to achieve.

    However….I have recently been introduced to a product by Amer Solutions called VideoSynergyPro that will segment narration, transcripts and video segments into 30-60 second segments, which facilitates via a direct link to specific point or topics of material. This removes even the skimmable fast forward necessity! The solution also offers an exit and resume feature that recognizes if you exit from the video and offers to return you to the exact location you exited from the next time you return to the lesson, no need to spend time searching for that 2.5 minute item you HAD to hear. So far upon review and analysis I am impressed.

    I totally agree Janet, its all about the design and Brian yes, its choosing the best tool for the job. Perhaps Tom, solutions like this will enable us to provide linear training AND Google search like materials which can be used within performance support scenarios without the need to produce countless versions of the same materials.

  • Emma King

    I agree with all points made above, especially regarding narration and video being laborious when we have to use the fast forward button to find the exact location.

    I used to be of the opinion that if narration and video was segmented properly, based upon sensible topical breaks in the materials, then surely we should be able to link to exact segments of materials? Unfortunately this requires extensive skills sets and a lot of man hours to achieve.

    However….I have recently been introduced to a product by Amer Solutions called VideoSynergyPro that will segment narration, transcripts and video segments into 30-60 second segments, which facilitates via a direct link to specific point or topics of material. This removes even the skimmable fast forward necessity! The solution also offers an exit and resume feature that recognizes if you exit from the video and offers to return you to the exact location you exited from the next time you return to the lesson, no need to spend time searching for that 2.5 minute item you HAD to hear. So far upon review and analysis I am impressed.

    I totally agree Janet, its all about the design and Brian yes, its choosing the best tool for the job. Perhaps Tom, solutions like this will enable us to provide linear training AND Google search like materials which can be used within performance support scenarios without the need to produce countless versions of the same materials.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Thanks Emma! Great to hear about solutions!

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Thanks Emma! Great to hear about solutions!

  • Brian

    In broadcasting media, closed caption tracks are mandatory. It is part of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Such tracks added to online multi-media would indeed offer very accurate reference points for more accurate searhing and browsing.

    While the internet is not really bound to the same rules as terrestrial broadcasters, it may be advantagious to any design to go ahead and start thinking in this direction as ‘modular learning’ and ‘cloud’ concepts grow.

  • Brian

    In broadcasting media, closed caption tracks are mandatory. It is part of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Such tracks added to online multi-media would indeed offer very accurate reference points for more accurate searhing and browsing.

    While the internet is not really bound to the same rules as terrestrial broadcasters, it may be advantagious to any design to go ahead and start thinking in this direction as ‘modular learning’ and ‘cloud’ concepts grow.

  • Brian

    Emma, I agree that going back and tagging ‘old’ content could be rather labor intensive; however, if we borrow from what the broadcasting industry has done for decades, and document during the mastering process, it only takes seconds, and all of the data is present for easy automated production of a wide vareity of distibution formats.

    In short, the solutions are out there, many of them having already been well tested to the point of strict industry standards. As we produce instructional media intended for eLearning from today forward, addressing the issues of searchability and browsing should simply be a matter of habit.

    A good deal of these issues could be addressed with ‘best practice’ tactics to producers. I.E. Fill out all meta tags for every edit point in the master. So yes, while some training will be integral, it should not be extremely costly or complex. Producers should already understand the importance of documentation and databases of all pre-produced library material (each production house should already have some kind of standard).

    If a production house is not doing this type of training already, they are in trouble. Chances are they are paying again and again to redo things they already have produced, and may even be triple paying on rights and royalties they already have at hand.

    In short: It’s worth it to go ahead and build in the training. It will SAVE costs across the board.

  • Brian

    Emma, I agree that going back and tagging ‘old’ content could be rather labor intensive; however, if we borrow from what the broadcasting industry has done for decades, and document during the mastering process, it only takes seconds, and all of the data is present for easy automated production of a wide vareity of distibution formats.

    In short, the solutions are out there, many of them having already been well tested to the point of strict industry standards. As we produce instructional media intended for eLearning from today forward, addressing the issues of searchability and browsing should simply be a matter of habit.

    A good deal of these issues could be addressed with ‘best practice’ tactics to producers. I.E. Fill out all meta tags for every edit point in the master. So yes, while some training will be integral, it should not be extremely costly or complex. Producers should already understand the importance of documentation and databases of all pre-produced library material (each production house should already have some kind of standard).

    If a production house is not doing this type of training already, they are in trouble. Chances are they are paying again and again to redo things they already have produced, and may even be triple paying on rights and royalties they already have at hand.

    In short: It’s worth it to go ahead and build in the training. It will SAVE costs across the board.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    So many excellent points Brian. And, great analogies. Get a blog! You’re a natural.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    So many excellent points Brian. And, great analogies. Get a blog! You’re a natural.

  • http://www.relearn.ie/ Eamon Costello

    Very interesting discussion. Forget about learners for a minute and let’s think about ourselves. I can see that all of the commenters here are very literate. I personally was taught to read at a young age and am a voracious reader. I love reading. I love writing. I suspect Al Moser’s original post came from the perspective of a reader (and obviously of a writer).

    Text holds many advantages for us but maybe we are holding a lot of cards?

    Eamon Costellos last blog post..Free SMS Educational Tools

  • http://www.relearn.ie Eamon Costello

    Very interesting discussion. Forget about learners for a minute and let’s think about ourselves. I can see that all of the commenters here are very literate. I personally was taught to read at a young age and am a voracious reader. I love reading. I love writing. I suspect Al Moser’s original post came from the perspective of a reader (and obviously of a writer).

    Text holds many advantages for us but maybe we are holding a lot of cards?

    Eamon Costellos last blog post..Free SMS Educational Tools

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Eamon –
    Good way to look at this issue. Perspective is crucial. Thanks for the reality check.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Eamon –
    Good way to look at this issue. Perspective is crucial. Thanks for the reality check.

  • http://blog.cathy-moore.com/ Cathy Moore

    One more point: Ruth Clark et al. were talking about narration that explained a *meaningful* graphic. For example, a course showed an image of a storm and explained what was going on in the storm.

    What I've seen in some elearning is narration with eye candy–a bland stock photo of a “business person” or, worse, moving abstract images that have little or nothing to do with the info being narrated. Maybe it's my own personal glitch, but I come out of that with no idea of what I just supposedly learned.

    Clark et al. also have a “redundancy” principle that warns against reading text on the screen to the learner.

    Cathy Moores last blog post..Quick links for your coffee break

  • Designer

    get rid of that ugly background.

  • Designer

    lines through your text definately diminshes learning

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