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Instructional methods and instructional media

Suppose you were to take a course in statistics. Would you learn better from a computer-based presentation of the material or from a "traditional" classroom course? Researchers have conducted hundreds of studies comparing the teaching and learning effectiveness of various media, only to conclude that it depends. And it doesn't depend on the medium of instruction. Most of us have experienced ineffective instruction in various media, including the classroom and the computer. That's because what makes good instruction isn't the medium; it's the instructional methods that guide the way the medium is used.

Methods are the instructional techniques that facilitate learning. Media are the means of implementing those methods (as well as conveying the material to be learned). For example, methods include demonstrations, animations, examples, practice, and feedback. Media include overhead slides, computers, video, workbooks, and instructors among others.

Any medium can be rendered ineffective by inappropriate methods. Take, for example, a lengthy classroom lecture where students are relentlessly bombarded with information but given no opportunity to work with it, or a computer-assisted learning program that allows for no interactions on the part of the user. Both overload learners with too much content while providing inadequate opportunities to build skills or practice the content being presented.

Conversely, instruction based on sound methods will succeed no matter what the medium. Research shows that when two lessons are designed using similar instructional methods but presented through different media, such as the classroom and the computer, the results are pretty much the same. In other words, as long as a statistics course is well designed, it doesn't matter how it's delivered; you'll have a good chance of learning the material.

This is not to say that all media are equivalent. Not all media can carry all instructional methods equally effectively. For example, it is difficult to carry a role play practice on computer; classroom provides a better vehicle. Computers that deliver multimedia instruction are unique among media as a result of the broad range of methods and information modes they can deliver including animation, audio, color, simulation, and feedback to name a few. In fact, it is because of the wide variety of methods that are deliverable by means of computer that instructional design skills are especially critical for effective multimedia instruction.

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