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Four instructional architectures

Multimedia instruction can be designed based on four different assumptions of learning. I call these four architectures: receptive, directive, guided discovery, and exploratory.

Receptive architecture
In this design, the instruction provides information that the learner absorbs. Learners absorb the new information as they receive it. This architecture provides relatively little in the way of learner interaction. Briefings and linear video programs are typical examples of the receptive architecture.

The following figure illustrates a screen from a receptive multimedia course that describes the benefits and features of the Iridium satellite-delivered telephone system built by Motorola. The goal is to provide an overview of the system and generate enthusiasm for it. The program uses video, audio, and graphic animation to illustrate how the satellites will be able to send and receive calls globally.

A screen from a receptive multimedia course. Courtesy of Learning Edge.

Directive architecture
This design is characterized by short lessons that include rules or definitions, examples, and practice exercises. Lessons are generally sequenced starting with easier or prerequisite skills, and build gradually to more complex skills. Frequent questions with feedback are provided to build patterns of correct associations. This architecture is based on behavioral principles of psychology and served as the predominant architecture of instruction in early computer-based training.

The following figure illustrates a screen from a directive multimedia course designed to teach a new telephone system. Learners are guided step by step to take the correct actions to answer, transfer, and end telephone calls. If they make a mistake, corrective feedback is given—followed by an opportunity to try again.

A screen from a directive multimedia course. Courtesy of Learning Edge.

Guided discovery architecture
As cognitive psychology became more predominant in the 1970s, greater concern was directed toward how instructional methods interacted with learner mental events. Instructional designs became more learner controlled and used greater amounts of simulation. While pure discovery learning can be very inefficient, guided discovery can be effective by immersing learners in problem situations and by providing support for their solutions. One type of guided discovery instruction is called the cognitive apprenticeship. This architecture will be described in detail later in this article. Its main features include experiential learning in which learners are immersed in job-like problems and—with various support options including tutors, reference, and best practice models—are encouraged to solve the problems.

The following figure illustrates a screen from a multimedia course designed to teach purchasing agents various cost-accounting techniques. Learners are provided the case study on their computer and have numerous sources of help—including web sites, reference books, and video conferences with suppliers and experts. As is shown in this screen, learners are situated at their work sites with access to typical work tools as sources for case information and for assistance.

A screen from a guided discovery course. Courtesy of Learning Edge.

Exploratory architecture
The advent of the World Wide Web (WWW) has given impetus to architectures that are highly learner controlled. The learner is free to access diverse repositories of information that can include demonstrations, examples, and practice exercises. The role of instruction is to provide a rich layered or networked resource of information and effective navigational and orientation interfaces so learners can acquire the knowledge they need.

The following figure illustrates a screen from a course designed to teach programmers WWW programming. The course includes lessons, access to Internet sites, demonstrations, and labs where programming practice is available. The window on the left remains in place and provides a menu or course map to help the learner maintain orientation and select various options in the course with full learner control.

A screen from an exploratory course. Courtesy of Learning Edge.

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