Tip #269: Save Interactivity for Complex Subjects

Last week, we discussed the fact that Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience has been misinterpreted to suggest a direct correlation between learner interactivity and learning retention. In fact, research has proven that doing is not always more efficient than seeing, and seeing is not always more effective than reading.

According to the findings published in Multimodal Learning Through Media: What the Research Says, there is a clear rationale for using multimedia in learning. However, although complex skill building benefits from interactive learning, basic skill building is better accomplished through non-interactive learning.

As it turns out, doing is not always more efficient than seeing. The reality is that for the novice student engaged in basic skill building, such as learning chemical symbols, individual learning through reading or simple drill and practice might be the optimal learning design. Yet, for a different learning objective- for instance, understanding the cause and effect of a specific chemical reaction- involving that same student in collaborative problem solving with fellow students through a simulation might be the most effective learning approach.

The researchers looked at the impact of multimodal learning in comparison to traditional single-mode learning. They found that the average student’s scores on basic skills assessments increased by 21% when engaged in non-interactive multimodal learning (which includes using text with visuals, text with audio, or watching and listening to animations or lectures that effectively use visuals, etc.) in comparison to traditional, single-mode learning.

When that situation shifted from non-interactive to interactive multimedia learning (such as engagement in simulations, modeling, and real-world experiences, most often in collaborative teams or groups), results showed a much lower gain of 9% in comparison to traditional means.

With regard to complex skill building, the researchers found that the average student’s scores on higher-order or transfer skills increased by 32% when engaged in interactive multimodal learning in comparison to traditional, single-mode learning.

When that situation shifted from interactive to non-interactive multimodal learning, results showed a lower (yet still significant) gain of 20% over traditional means. Based on this research, we can conclude that there has been a misplaced emphasis on interactive learning, particularly when it comes to teaching basic skills.

You may be wondering how this relates to Cognitive Load Theory. The way our brains are wired severely limits our capacity to learn. Novice learners need to devote their working memory capacity (where thinking gets done) to building new schemas (memory structures in long-term memory that are the basis for expertise) and then automating them (so the automated knowledge or skills can be exercised with minimal or no resources from working memory). Adding interactivity to the mix actually results in design-induced extraneous load that wastes limited working memory capacity. Experienced learners already have the necessary schemas and automaticity, so in their case, interactivity adds a germane load that is beneficial to the learning process.

Next week, we will continue our discussion about multimodal learning by looking at the need to avoid too many inputs.

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