How Media and Technology Influence Learning

23 04 2010

How Media and Technology Influence Learning

(Based on the Clark/Kozma Debate)

This position paper is based on Richard E. Clark and Robert Kozma’s famous debate that looks at whether media and technology influences learning. I will be looking at the role media and technology play in motivating and enhancing learning in schools of the 21st century. I will also be examining the possible challenges within the use of technology in school settings and conclude by suggesting some possible recommendations that will analyze the possible directions of media and technology in the future.

Summary of  Debate

Clark, a professor of instructional technology at the University of Southern California, insists that media does not influence learning under any conditions. He felt that its only influence was cost and distribution. He goes as far as to say, that different forms of “media” are mere vehicles that delivers instruction but does not influence student achievement any more more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition” (Clark, 1994, p. 22). In addition, Clark mentions, “Learning seems to result from factors such as task differences, instructional methods, and learner traits(including attitudes) but not the choice of media for instruction” (1992, p.812). It seems evident that Clark’s (1983) focus is to separate the relationship between media and instructional strategies (method) and to assert that there are no learning advantages from the use of any particular medium.

On the other hand, Kozma (1994), a principal scientist at the Center for Technology in Learning,SRI International, challenges Clark’s idea in the debate about the impact of media andtechnology on learning. He argues that “learners will benefit most from the use of aparticular medium when its capabilities are employed by the instructional method to providerepresentations and cognitive operations that are salient to the task and the situation” (Nathan,& Robinson, 2001, p.72). Kozma proposes that the combination of media with methods ininstructional research might influence and benefit learning for particular students, tasks, andsituations. He also recommends that educators try to question “the ways can we use the capabilities of media and technology to influence learning for particular students with specific tasks in distinct contexts” (Reeves, 1998, p. 26) .

My position within the debate

Clark and Kozma both have important points of view. Teaching and learning environments certainly have changed a lot since Clark and Kozma wrote these two papers. Perhaps after observing  all the changes, Clark and Kozma might agree that each argument has its own value and strength.

 Clark has a strong argument that people tend to “encourage students and teachers ) to begin with educational and instructional solutions and search for problems that can be solved by those solutions” (Clark, 1994, p.28). It is not uncommon tosee people working intensely on developing new technologies (media) but then having difficulty marketing the product line because it has limited use or value in real life. If not careful the same thing could happen to instructional design if we omit the underlying guidelines (methods) for the teaching/learning model when exploring various possibilities of improving the use of media.

 On the other hand, I think Kozma is also right when he argues that the combinationof media with methods in instructional research might influence and benefit learning for learners who can engage in technology-embedded instruction. Overall, I agree with the conclusion that Kozma suggested in his article that we should stop debating the issue of “Do media influence learning?” and instead we should begin to think about “In what ways can we use the capabilities of media to influence learning for particular students, tasks, and situations?” (Kozma, 1994, p.18) By doing so, we will have more opportunities to discover the potential relationship between media andlearning and then use the available media to enhance teaching and learning environments to facilitate our students.

Learning “with” and “from” media and technology

Thomas C. Reeves points out that “media and technology have been introduced into schools because it is believed that they can have positive effects on teaching and learning” (1998, p.1). In addition, there is an important approach educational researchers have indicated which argues that both media and technology can effectively be used in schools as phenomena to learn both from and with (Jonassen, & Reeves, 1996). In terms of learning  “from” technology, it includes the instructional television, computer-based instruction, or integrated learning systems that have been implemented into classrooms (Reeves, 1998, p.4). Learning “with” technology means to use the technologies as cognitive tools to create constructivist learning environments (Reeves, 1998). Moreover, many researchers such as Jonassen (1996) have shown that the learning process might be changed as an effect of predominant media being used, because “technology or media has been successfully evaluated as type of cognitive mind tool” (Kenny, 2001, p. 210). Therefore, the media and technology can play a powerful role to improve instructions “when students can actively use them as cognitive tools rather than simply perceive and interact with them as tutors or repositories of information” (Reeves, 1998, p.25). It seemsapparent that media does play an important role in the design of an instructional method, because technology can more readily provide a highly learner-oriented and interactive environment in a less expensive way.

Furthermore, today’s learners will need to enter the real-world with capabilities such as the ability to communicate effectively, analyze, synthesize information, utilize higher-order thinking skills and think creatively. I suppose that new technologies could bring new opportunities for teachers to connect with students who are already spending large amounts of time in these activities in creating a more collaborative learning environment. Many researchers agree that computers can be used as tools to engage learners in higher order thinking and provide a constructive learning environment to help the learner actively build up their own knowledge and reflect on their interpretations (Jonassen, & Carr, & Yueh, 1998). Jonassen et al. claim that “Mind tools function as formalisms for guiding learners in the organization and representation of what they know” (1998, p.30). Consequently, educators or instructional designers should pay more attention to the fundamental principles andmethods. In addition to the fundamental principles of education, educators should use new technologies in order to create a suited learning environment to educate the students to be lifelong learners in the future.

The teacher’s role in the process of learning

Seymour Papert defines the process of learning as the “making [of] connections between mental entities that already exist” and states that “new mental entities seem to come into existence in more subtle ways that escape conscious control” (1993, p.105). Learning is a process that students should be encouraged to experience by themselves. Focusing on the learning process will lead them to positive engagement in learning, because they will not be afraid to make mistakes and will be able to find the answers through a series of trials.  From this perspective, the teacher is controlling the learning most of the time, and the child is responsible for following instructions. However,teacher-centered teaching cannot provide a better open-ended learning environment to encourage students to think independently and critically than students-centered ways of teaching. I feel that  if a teacher can be a facilitator rather than the information deliverer in the classroom during the process of interaction , then students can become deeper thinkers, not just memorizers. In the meantime, a teacher should“facilitate learning by improving the connectivity in the learning environment” (Papert, 1993, p.105), which means involving various real-life or more realistic situations in the teaching and learning materials. Many constructivists believe that hypermedia can be a type of medium that allows learners to “create their own schemata from the pieces of information provided” (Cates, 1995, p.4). Moreover, the research shows that many students in the 21st century could be more actively engaged in instructions through using technology-based learning activities than traditional teacher-based learning environments (Cates, 1995).

The impact of media and technology in school settings

If we look back at prior educational environments before the invention of computers and multimedia technologies, we see there were other types of technologies introduced as instructional tools such as radio, film, and television into classrooms with a certain degree of success (Nathan, & Robinson, 2001). Today, digital technologies have greatly influenced children in the 21st century. Educational experiences have remained consistent even while there have been some significant changes in the modes and models of teaching and learning with the advance of technology, mainly due to the invention of the Internet and the popularity of personal computers. Thus, educators should deliberately “look differently on communicating and educating today’s media-centric youth” (Kenny, 2001, p. 210) and use those technologies to be the instructional supplementary materials that enable pedagogies to be more diversified.

However, after reading the article “Now More Than Ever: Will High-Tech Kids Still Think Deeply?”, I found that Tarlow and Spangler (2001) mainly tried to argue that we, aseducators or educational instruction designers, should be sure not to overlook technology tools, but instead, use our critical capabilities to deliberate on the most essential learning objectives that we seek to achieve, and we should apply and estimate high-tech applications in order to achieve those objectives. I agree that when we, as educators, over-extend new technologies, it does bring with it drawbacks to the educational system. Kozma (1994) points out that “learning with media can be thought of as a complementary process within which representations are constructed and procedures performed, sometimes by the learner and sometimes by the medium” (p.11).

It is my goal for the future to be an instructional designer, in addition to still being a teacher and educator, to be reminded that it is important not to over-emphasize the capacity of media and technology tools, but rather to closely look at the purpose of education and its educational goals. Media and technology can be one type of channel ortoolbox to enhance the learning environment, but I believe that they are not the only solution for achieving our educational goals. McLuhan (1964) proposed the idea that medium is the message and the four-tiered questions to evaluate new technology when we think about applying it: “what does it extend?”; “what does it make obsolete?”; “what is retrieved?” and “what does the technology revert into if it is over-extended?”. I believe that if we seriously rethink those questions before we determine what kind of technology we will use to improveour teaching, it will lead us to a more neutral decision.

The challenges of learning by media and technology

In school settings, how can we design instruction and implement applications in the classroom? There are some concerns applying technology in the real-world classroom. First, the virtual classroom is not necessarily suitable  for every learner, because it requires more self-discipline from students themselves, and it might not be able to provide a full-scale learning environment for students because of the lack of social experiences and interactions among students. Secondly, the technological implementation process will take time to integrate with current school systems. In addition, it will involve a lot of money, strength, and time. Will most of the schools have enough resources to adapt new technology? Finally, many teachers realized that they are not well-prepared for new technologies. Susan

Nelson mentions that educators can not sophisticatedly adopt technological instructions, because “the school setting and the student-teacher learning paradigm have been largely ignored by most major software designers” (Nelson, 2000, p.46). It is important that schools provide teachers with continuous professional development training to enhance their teaching methods and gain confidence in using new technology tools. For instructional designers, it is important to incorporate teaching methods to create a more effective and interactive learning environment. These are the challenges and real problems that I foresee.

Recommendations for applications of technology

Modern technology offers an easier and even faster environment to access and retrieve information. Children can retrieve information much more rapidly using Internet service, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that children have the ability to evaluate the validity of information, nor does it mean that the information they acquire from the Internet will trigger them to think deeply. Nelson states that, “true learning is not so much about the gathering of information as it is about using and analyzing information. The Internet does not promote this level of thinking” (2000, p. 47). Essentially, education should prepare students to be creative thinkers and develop the needed models and purpose for learning. Therefore, the goal of teaching and learning should be focused on training students to think critically and giving them opportunities to build up their own thinking experiences they implement the future teaching model. I believe that educators should pay more attention to how instructions are delivered to students and how the learning objectives should be achieved. At the same time, they should prepare children to have the life-longcapabilities and decision-making skills to face a society that is changing rapidly.

Final remarks

“In good designs, a medium’s capabilities enable methods and the methods that are used take advantage of these capabilities” (Kozma, 1994, p.16). It is important to evaluate the following four questions that Cates (1995, p.10) quoted in White’s article, “Educators must ask themselves some important questions,” when they integrate technology into instructions. First educators should ask, “What is the educational value of the technological advance?”Secondly, instructors must pose the question, “What type of information is best presented through which medium?” Furthermore, they also need to think about “How can we get more tools for education that combine quality technology with quality education?” Lastly, itis important to ask “What are the critical tools for education?” I believe for myself, going into instructional design in the future, these questions are good reminders that encourage me to analyze instructional methods before creating new technology-embedded tools. Hyperlearning tools can definitely change learning and provide a more dynamic learning environment only if they are implemented effectively and efficiently for learners. Will this in turn phase out the need for schools? Perelman (1993) argues that public education and schools or colleges will be replaced by the hyperlearning revolution in the future. It is very hard to think that everything that needs to be learned can be learned only through technology. Everyone is unique; thus, some of the learners might easily absorb new knowledge through technology-incorporated materials, but others might need more face-to-face.


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6 responses

24 04 2010

Robert, your paper adumirably argued both sides of the debate, but I wasn’t able to clearly identify the side on which you stand. We you pro Clark or pro Kozam, for the purpose of this class? I do agree that how technology is applied is critical. As a delivery method for information, it is essential the content be aligned with the delivery. Using video for all information would be a waste of time and resources. It would also be dificult for dial-up connections to download. It might be useful in a math or sciecne class where the visual demonstration is essential, but does that negate Clark’s arguement any more than using a chalk board over straight lecture in a traditional classroom. For the purpose of thie debate I do not think so.

Thank you for the in depth treatment of this issue. I enjoyed your views.

26 04 2010

Thanks Donna for bringing this to my attention. It was my intention to side with Robert Kozam, but I guess I didn’t quite get it right. I also agree with you how technology should be applied. I have tried to make it a point to use different types of technology that best fits what I am teaching whether it be math, science, or social studies. Again, I’m sorry if it did not appear that I was leaning towards Kozma. I guess I did more of a compare and contrast paper, rather than a position paper. Thank you so much for your input on my blogs. I really value your opinon and your expertise.

26 04 2010
Donna Shea

You are welcome, Bob. Position papers can be difficult to write. I enjoyed your compare/contrast. You made some excellent observations.

25 04 2010

That was my thought exactly, since this was supposed to be an either/or argument, but your research was well done.

26 04 2010

I really apologize for that Bob. I was trying to take Robert Kozma’s position in this debate, but I guess I didn’t pull it off very well. Thank you so much for your input.

25 04 2010

Kozma, (Robert) I (Clark) applaud the fact that your research interests include educational technology research and theory, the evaluation of technology-based reform, and the design of advanced interactive multimedia systems. I am also impressed with your ability to begin influencing Instructional Designers in the development of better programs for students to use. I still question whether it is your good teaching techniques, or the media that influences the students learning. Doherty suggests that this might work only for those students who have a higher level of prior knowledge of the subject matter who might benefit from this type of instruction. (Doherty, 1998) What does your research show in this area? I, (Kathy) applaud the fact that you are an instructor who continues to use technology via computers, learning programs, LCD projectors, video streaming, Elmo, smart slate, specially designed programs and more to enhance the learning of your young, high risk students. I also applaud the fact that you continue to push your learning of technology to discover new programs and technologies to use with your students.

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