The cognitive theory of multimedia learning

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Literature Review and Theoretical Framework  


The literature review serves two main purposes. Firstly it determines what has already been established in the empirical literature about cognitive load, cognitive style, multimedia learning and the relationships between these, and to identify the theoretical frameworks that guided the design of the study and the interpretation of the findings. Secondly it aims to identify any contradictions, ‘silences’, and gaps in these three areas of research. It is these contradictions, ‘silences’ and gaps that provide pointers for this particular study.

Overview of Chapter 2

This chapter is divided into two parts. Part 1 presents and discusses the three theoretical frameworks that guide and inform this study. These frameworks are discussed at the beginning of Chapter 2 since many of the studies reviewed in Part 2 use these theoretical frameworks and models. Part 2 presents a critical review of the literature about multimedia learning, cognitive load and cognitive style.

Literature sources

A search in early 2004 that targeted only peer-reviewed journals in the Academic Premier Database returned over 600 references for learning style and approximately 450 references for cognitive style.
Since then, between 40 and 60 publications have been added to the cognitive styles literature list annually.
A similar search using the terms ‘cognitive load theory’ or ‘cognitive load’ in peer-reviewed journals returned close on 200 references. This number grew to 351 by July 2007. The extent of interest in cognitive load research is also reflected by the number of special editions that have been devoted to this topic in leading education journals since 2002.
The special editions mentioned above are in Table 2.2. It is a point worth making that the authors of the introductions and commentaries of these special editions read like a ‘Who’s Who’ of Cognitive and Educational Psychology.

Introduction to the theoretical frameworks of this study

Decisions about the development of instructional material are not only content and context dependent, but depend increasingly on a skill set that is not part of the average lecturer or facilitator’s experience (Inglis, 1999). Contemporary multimedia for face-to-face, blended and/or distance learning environments are currently developed by teams, and it is a feature of these teams that each member of a team will bring different skills and perspectives to the design and development table. It is primarily the task of the instructional designer in any such team to decide on the variety and blend of instructional strategies and methods that will be used in any particular case. When making such decisions, an instructional designer needs to take the whole gamut of current theories about learning, available research-based evidence and empirically tested theory into account.
There are three mainstream theoretical perspectives that address the field of learning. They are behaviourism, cognitive science and constructivism. Instructional design is currently informed by all three of these theoretical perspectives.
Behaviourism as a learning theory focuses on changes in overt behaviour that can be observed and measured. While early behaviourist researchers used mainly animals as experimental subjects (Mergel, 1998), current behaviourist experiments with human beings achieve a desired behaviour by presenting content together with a stimulus (usually in the form of a question), to which the learner is required to respond. If the response to the question is correct, the learner is rewarded. This procedure is repeated until the learner responds automatically to the stimulus and the question. Learning of this kind takes place primarily as a result of association, and the repetition and reinforcement that are a feature of this method contribute to the success of the learning effort. Instructional strategies used in technology-supported learning that are based on behavioural theories include programmed learning, drill and practice and mastery learning. Teaching practices that focus on the correct use of feedback and reinforcement are also based on methods perfected by behaviourists. Because of the work of behaviourists, instructional designers routinely pay careful attention to the design of feedback mechanisms in learning contexts (Alessi & Trollip, 2001).
Constructivist theorists regard knowledge as something that is constructed by learners rather than something that is merely reproduced (Murphy, 2003). It is the view that knowledge is constructed when learners, often working together in a group, try to harmonise their existing perceptions, understanding and interpretations of a subject with the perceptions, understanding and interpretations of others. The use of such a method implies that the learners’ final understanding of a particular knowledge domain will be different from their original conceptualisation and understanding of that knowledge domain. Another central tenet of this theoretical perspective is that there may be a number of individually constructed knowledge representations that are equally valid (Dalgarno, 2001).
Dalgarno describes three broad principles of constructivist theory:

  • Each learner forms[his or her] own representation of knowledge
  • Learning occurs when learners actively explore their environment and find some inconsistency between their current knowledge representation and their experience
  • Learning occurs within a social context – this interaction is a necessary part of the learning process.

While there is general agreement about these principles among educationalists, their implications for teaching and learning are not quite so clear cut. Educationalists still differ about how to implement these broad principles in practice. Mayer (1997b) questions the value of focusing on doctrine-based research when educational practitioners and leaders are still asking for answers to some of the most fundamental educational issues such as ‘How do students learn?’ and ‘How can learning be fostered?’
‘Cognitive learning theory’ is in fact a collective term for a number of theories that developed from the 1950s onwards. These theories were formulated in response to the perceived shortcomings of behaviourist theory (Mergel, 1998). Cognitive theorists regard learning as more than mere changes in behaviour, and contend that learning can in fact take place even when there are no external changes in a learner’s behaviour. These theorists view learning as an internal process that involves memory, thinking, reflection, abstraction, motivation and meta-cognition (Ally, 2004). Cognitive theory focuses on the mental activity that takes place during the event that we call learning, and is based on assertions about how information is processed and how the brain develops and uses schemas to consolidate the acquisition and construction of knowledge (Mergel, 1998).
Several cognitive learning theories are concerned with the processing of information, memory, mental models and schema construction (Kearsley, 2004). The better-known of these theories include:

  • ACT (Anderson, Bothell, Byrne, Douglass, Lebiere & Qin, 2004)
  • Cognitive load theory (Sweller, 1998)
  • Component Display Theory (Merrill, 1983)
  • Dual Coding Theory (Paivio, 1986)
  • Information Processing Theory (Miller, 1956)
  • Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (Mayer, 2003)
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Two theories subsumed under the more general category descriptor of cognitive theory underpin this study: Mayer’s Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning and Cognitive Load Theory (CLT). These theories guided the focus of the literature review in such a way that I was able to clarify my final research questions and obtain a research design appropriate for this study.
The third framework in this study is the model that I used to define and measure the cognitive styles of the participants in this study – a model proposed by Riding as early as 1991 (Riding & Cheema, 1991), and still in use today (Chen, Ghinea & Macredie, 2006).

The cognitive theory of multimedia learning

There are three important concepts that need to be clarified when one discusses multimedia learning: the delivery media, the presentation modes and the sensory modalities. ‘Delivery medium’ refers to the system that an instructor uses to present instruction. Two widely used contemporary examples of such media are the paper medium and the computer medium. The medium of instruction has been the focus of a great deal of research and debate (Boling & Robinson, 1999; Chang, 2002; Erwin & Ricardo, 1999; Frith, Jaftha & Prince, 2004; Kekkonen–Moneta & Moneta, 2002; Vichitvejpaisal, Sitthikongsak, Parakkamodom, Manon & Petcharatana, 2001; Williams et al.2001). ‘Presentation modes’ refer to the format that an instructor uses to present the information. Examples of such presentation modes are words and illustrations (Carney & Levin, 2002; Dutke & Rinck, 2006; Mayer, Mautone & Prothero, 2002; O’Donnell, Dansereau & Hall, 2002; Rieber, Tzeng & Tribble, 2004). ‘Sensory modality’ refers to the information processing channel that a learner must use to process the information. These include the auditory, visual, olfactory and tactile modes. Research has sought to understand how learners integrate verbal and visual information when they engage in multimedia learning (Dempsey & van Eck, 2003; Mayer, 1997a; Moreno, Mayer, Spires & Lester, 2001).

Abbreviated Table of Contents .
Table of Contents
List of Tables 
List of Figures.
Abbreviations used in the study
List of Appendices 
Chapter 1: Overview and Orientation
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Purpose of the study
1.3 Defining core concepts and terminology
1.4 Background to the study
1.5 Rationale of the research
1.6 Research questions
1.7 Research design and methodology
1.8 Analysis of the data
1.9 Limitations and strengths of the research
1.10 Organisation of the thesis
1.11 Summary
Chapter 2: Literature Review and Theoretical Framework.
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Overview of Chapter 2
2.3 Literature sources
2.4 Introduction to the theoretical frameworks of this study
2.5 The cognitive theory of multimedia learning
2.6 Cognitive load theory
2.7 Riding’s cognitive style model
2.8 Summing up Part 1 of the Literature Review
2.9 Introduction to Part 2
2.10 Cognitive styles and multimedia learning
2.11 Cognitive load and multimedia learning.
2.12 Multimedia in health sciences education
2.13 Conclusion following the literature view.
Chapter 3: Research Methodology and Design
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Overview of this chapter
3.3 Purpose of the study.
3.4 The research questions
3.5 The research approach
3.6 The research design.
3.7 The research sample
3.8 The research dat
3.9 The research instruments
3.10 Ethical considerations in this study
3.11 Summary for Part 1
3.12 Introduction
3.13 Source of the content
3.14 Design and development of the multimedia
3.15 Instructional strategies and media used
3.16 The hypotheses and expected findings
3.17 Introduction
3.18 Conducting the pilot study
3.19 Conducting the main study.
3.20 Summary
Chapter 4: Presentation and Analysis of Empirical Data
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Statistical analysis
4.3 The profile of the participants
4.4 Time spent on each version of the intervention
4.5 Exploring the role cognitive style plays in an authentic multimedia learning environment
4.6 Exploring the role cognitive load plays in an authentic multimedia learning environment
4.7 The correlation between self-report of cognitive load and the direct measure of cognitive load
4.8 The interaction between cognitive style, cognitive load and learning performance in an authentic multimedia learning environment
4.9 Summary of Chapter 4
Chapter 5: Discussion and Recommendations 
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Summary of the research
5.3 Methodological reflection
5.4 Substantive reflection
5.5 Scientific reflection
5.6 Conclusion

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