Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Media and technology don't directly influence learning: But use them anyway!

An interesting tenet of instructional/educational technology is that media doesn't influence learning. In other words, the different types of media (and technology) that you implement for learning won't in and of themselves change the amount of learning that happens. Instead, it is the instructional/learning methods that you implement that affect whether students learn. Richard Clark first suggested this idea long ago, but it seems to have held true over many years (see Clark, 1994). A vast number of studies, for instance have shown no significant difference between learning gains from online and face to face classes that use the same learning methods (Russell, 2001).

So if media and technology don't influence learning, then what does? The greatest influences on learning come from the learning methods employed (independent of the media and technologies used). Some possible learning methods that can lead to the greatest learning gains include making sure that students' mental models are activated, that students see a demonstration of how to do things, that students are able to get enough practice completing activities and that they can take what is learned and integrate it into their daily lives (Merrill, 2002; Francom & Gardner, 2014).

So if media and technology don't influence learning, then why do we use them? Why do we take the time to get out the laptops and iPads if they won't necessarily lead to better learning outcomes. One compelling argument is that these technological tools are a part of our life, and thus should be a part of our school life as well. If education is going to prepare students to thrive in the 21st century, they must know how to take advantage of current tools and ideas. To me, this argument is a more than adequate reason to integrate media and technology into learning, but there are also other compelling reasons.

The connection between technology and learning is not a direct one, but I believe there is a more indirect connection that is important. I believe that the existence of technological tools and resources allows for new methods of teaching and learning that were not previously possible (see Kozma, 1994; Puentedura, 2010).  So, because of technology and media tools, teachers can more often implement quality teaching and learning methods. For instance, without technology and media tools, many project-based learning activities aren't as easy to design or implement. Information literacy activities were not as efficient before internet database searches. These types of learning activities can be implemented more often in a classroom that has the necessary technology and media tools, therefore learning outcomes can be improved. And that is a very compelling reason to implement technology into teaching and learning!

Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21–29.
Francom, G. M., & Gardner, J. L. (2014). What is Task-Centered Learning? TechTrends, 58(5), 27–35.
Kozma, R. (1994). Will media influence learning? Reframing the debate. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 7–19. 
Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43–59.
Puentedura, R. (2010). SAMR and TPCK: intro to advanced practice. Retrieved February, 12, 2013.
Russell, T. L. (2001). The no significant difference phenomenon: a comparative research annotated bibliography on technology for distance education : as reported in 355 research reports, summaries and papers. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University.

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