Teaching problem solving can be a challenge to teachers. However, the challenge is oftentimes not due to a lack of skills on the part of learners but due to an inappropriate design of media through which the problem is presented. The findings of this study demonstrate that appropriately designed multimedia can improve learners’ problem solving skills because of the cognitive functions such media have in facilitating mental representation and information retrieval and maintenance, as well as reducing cognitive load during the problem solving process. Suggestions were made on how to apply interactive multimedia to teaching and learning.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Single Rule-Based Problems: Single rule-based problems refer to a type of problem that emphasizes causal relationship among entities. The single rule-based problem solving, according to Frye et al. (1995), focuses primarily on the cause and effect of events and requires straight-forward deductive thinking such as applying the rule of card sorting to the action of sorting a deck of cards. Studies show that single rule-based problems may require less working information within the working memory and impose less cognitive load on learners than do multiple rule-based problems.
Cognitive Load: According to cognitive load theory (CLT), three types of cognitive load exist: intrinsic load, extraneous or ineffective load, and germane or effective load. The intrinsic cognitive load refers to cognitive load that is induced by the structure and complexity of the instructional material. Usually, teachers or instructional designers can do little to influence the intrinsic cognitive load. The extraneous cognitive load refers to the cognitive load caused by the format and manner in which information is presented. For example, teachers may unwittingly increase learner’s extraneous cognitive load by presenting materials that “require students to mentally integrate mutually referring, disparate sources of information” (Sweller et al., 1991, p. 353). Finally, the germane cognitive load refers to cognitive load that is induced by learners’ efforts to process and comprehend the material. The goal of CLT is to increase this type of cognitive load so that the learner can have more cognitive resources available to solve problems (Brunken, Plass, & Leutner, 2003; Marcus et al., 1996).
Visualization: Visualization refers to techniques used to communicate both abstract and concrete ideas by creating images, diagrams, or animations.Visualization has been defined as an important indicator of measuring learners’ spacial ability. Its applications have expanded into science, engineering, education, medicine, etc. Typical applications of visualization include computer graphics, interactive multimedia, animations, and so forth.
Multiple Rule-Based Problems: Multiple rule-based problems refer to the type of problems that consist of problems, rules and conditions that are mutually restricting. The learner is to find an optimal solution by weighing the conditions and rules and at the same time make a decision that would meet the conditions or rules without conflicting each other. The multiple rule-based problem involves a complex, nonlinear thinking process where the learner reaches a solution by engaging in a series of cognitive thinking activities such as analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating the information while holding the conditions and rules in mind within a short time framework provided by the working memory. Thus, multiple rule-based problem solving may require more working information than does causal relationship problem solving or single rule-based problem solving. The multiple rule-based problem solving is likely to increase intrinsic cognitive load more than other two types of problem solving.
Working Memory: Working memory is a theoretical framework that refers to the structures and processes used for temporarily storing and manipulating information. According to Baddeley and Hitch (1974), the working memory consists of two “slave systems” responsible for short-term maintenance of information, and a “central executive” responsible for the supervision of information integration and for coordinating the slave systems. One slave system, the articulatory loop, stores phonological information and prevents its decay by silently articulating its contents, thereby refreshing the information in a rehearsal loop. The other slave system, the visuo-spatial sketch pad, stores visual and spatial information. It can be used, for example, for constructing and manipulating visual images, and for the representation of mental maps. The sketch pad can be further broken down into a visual subsystem (dealing with, for instance, shape, color, and texture), and a spatial subsystem (dealing with location). The central executive system is, among other things, responsible for directing attention to relevant information, suppressing irrelevant information and inappropriate actions, and coordinating cognitive processes when more than one task must be done at the same time. Studies show that the working memory is very limited in both duration and capacity. The working memory typically stores about seven elements but normally operates on only two or three elements.
Interactive Multimedia: Interactive multimedia refers to the use of several media in learning where learners are able to process information through multiple sensory channels including auditory, visual, and kinesthetic manipulation. The advantages of interactive multimedia in learning include visualizing abstract and concrete ideas by creating images, diagrams, or animations, reducing cognitive load in learning, facilitating mental representation of external objects, and improving cognitive learning for low spatial ability learners.
The Dual Coding Theory: The dual coding theory describes the role of sensory inputs in information processing. According to the dual coding theory, different forms of information such as verbal, visual, and auditory information are registered through different channels (Paivio, 1986). For example, the auditory information is registered through the auditory channel and the visual information is registered through the visual channel. The auditory and visual information then interact with each other within the working memory to form a mental representation of the external world (Mayer, 2001). Paivio (1986) argued that learners learn better when information is presented through multiple sensory channels, rather than one channel only. Studies (see Mayer, 1997; Mayer et al., 1991; Mayer et al., 2003) show that different presentation modes (i.e., words vs. pictures) and sensory modalities (i.e., audio vs. visual) may affect students’ learning differently.