Review of Educational Research
Winter, 1983, Vol. 53, No. 4, Pp. 445-459
Reconsidering Research on Learning from Media
Richard E. Clark
University of Southern California
...this article will argue that most current summaries and meta-analyses of media comparison studies clearly suggest that media do not influence learning under any conditions.
The research reviewed in this article suggests that capabilities of a particular medium, in conjunction with methods that take advantage of these capabilities, interact with and influence the ways learners represent and process information and may result in more or different learning when one medium is compared to another for certain learners and tasks.
In the beginning of the article Clark and Kozma outline their thesis. Clark proposes that media do not influence learning and should not be further studied, whereas Kozma proposes that media can influence learning.
Even in the few cases where dramatic changes in achievement or ability have followed the introduction of a medium... it was not the medium that caused the change but rather a curricular reform that accompanied the change. The best current evidence is that media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition. Basically, the choice of vehicle might influence the cost or extent of distributing instruction, but only the content of the vehicle can influence achievement.
The theoretical framework supported by the review herein presents an image of the learner actively collaborating with the medium to construct knowledge. It stands in vivid contrast to an image in which learning occurs as the result of instruction being "delivered" by some (or any) medium. The framework is meant to provide the novel approach required by Clark before research on media and learning can progress.
Clark proposes that it is the attention to instructional design that influences learning, not the technology. Kozma, on the other hand, suggests that technology enables the learner to be actively engaged with the medium, not passive recipients of information delivered to the learner.
The positive effect for media more or less disappears when the same instructor produces all treatments (C. Kulik, Kulik, & Cohen, 1980). Different teams of instructional designers or different teachers probably give different content and instructional methods to the treatments that are compared. If this is the case, we do not know whether to attribute the advantage to the medium or to the differences between content and method and the media being compared. However, if the effect for media tends to disappear when the same instructor or team designs contrasting treatments, we have reason to believe that the lack of difference is due to greater control of nonmedium variables. It was Mielke (1968) who reminded us that when examining the effects of different media, only the media being compared can be different. All other aspects of the treatments, including the subject matter content and method of instruction, must be identical.
Whether or not a medium's capabilities make a difference in learning depends on how they correspond to the particular learning situation—the tasks and learners involved—and the way the medium's capabilities are used by the instructional design. Tasks vary in their situational characteristics and in the demands they place on the learner to create mental representations of certain information and to operate on that information in certain ways. Learners vary in their processing capabilities, the information and procedures that they have stored in long-term memory, their motivations and purposes for learning, and their metacognitive knowledge of when and how to use these procedures and information.
Here, Clark further supports his hypothesis that learning is influenced by the designer and teacher, not the technology. In this instance, Kozma seems to reiterate Clark's argument about the importance of instructional design, however, Kozma still claims the technology can make a difference in learning.
It seems reasonable to assume, therefore, that media are delivery vehicles for instruction and do not directly influence learning. However, certain elements of different media, such as animated motion or zooming, might serve as sufficient conditions to facilitate the learning of students who lack the skill being modeled. Symbolic elements such as zooming are not media (we can have a film or television program which does not contain zooming) but allow us to create sufficient conditions to teach required cognitive skills. The determination of necessary conditions is a fruitful approach when analyzing all instructional problems, and it is the foundation of all instructional theories. Once described, the necessary cognitive operation is a specification or recipe for an instructional method.
Various aspects of the learning process are influenced by the cognitively relevant characteristics of media: their technologies, symbol systems, and processing capabilities. For example, the serial processing of linguistic and pictorial information in books is very much influenced by the stability of this technology. Some learners rely on pictures to help construct a textbase and map it onto a model of the situation; others can provide this model from information in memory and do not need pictures or find audio presentations sufficient. The processing of linguistic and visual information in television is very much influenced by the simultaneous presentation of these symbol systems and the information in their codes. Some learners use these to build rich representations of situations, particularly of their dynamic aspects; others can supply this information from memory, and text or audio presentations suffice. The process of learning with computers is influenced by the ability of the medium to dynamically represent formal constructs and instantiate procedural relationships under the learner's control. These are used by some learners to construct, structure, and modify mental models; other students can rely on prior knowledge and processes, and the use of computers is unnecessary.
Ultimately, our ability to take advantage of the power of emerging technologies will depend on the creativity of designers, their ability to exploit the capabilities of the media, and our understanding of the relationship between these capabilities and learning. A moratorium on media research would only hurt these prospects.