The ubiquitous use of information technology (IT) promotes a fast-paced and dynamic training environment with enormous potential for performance increases in a variety of domains. This reality has many important ramifications, including how best to incorporate multimedia IT into computer-based training (CBT). Well-designed CBT offers us tremendous potential to effectively and efficiently train the workforce, foster learning in academic environments, and improve performance over and above what is currently achieved. Following a learner-centered design approach, in this article, we present an in-depth look at the use of multimedia CBT, as it relates to aptitude-treatment interactions; that is, how various CBT designs can differentially interact with individual learner aptitudes, such as spatial and verbal ability, to influence training outcomes. The goal of this article is to emphasize the importance of learner-centered design when developing multimedia computer-based instructional material for the growing needs of many sectors of society.
CBT has long been touted as a cost-effective and efficient medium for instruction due to, in part, IT availability (e.g., McDermott, 2006). Over the past few decades, a number of theoretical frameworks have flourished, aimed at understanding how multimedia information is processed and how best to design CBT to maximize the amount of information retained from such instruction. For example, Paivio’s (e.g., 1971) Dual Coding Theory underscored the importance of using multiple compatible modalities—such as text and images, which are parallel-processed within human working memory—in order to a) generate a strong encoding of processed information, and b) increase memory retrieval of the encoded information when compared to traditional methods employing only one modality (e.g., simply text, narrated lectures, etc.). However, the technological aspect of multimedia training was not yet developed and IT was still in its infancy in relation to CBT. Although IT was not yet widespread, the relevance of Paivio’s theory to current CBT design is the focus on the human’s capacity for processing multimodal information. Mayer (2001) later espoused this concept in his Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning, specifically addressing the manner in which CBT multimedia information is processed. Mayer and colleagues devised a number of learner-centered principles guiding CBT instructional design (e.g., Mayer, 1999, 2001) with the goal of helping society capitalize on the ubiquity of IT (e.g., Galvin, 2003; Najar, 1998).
The importance of following learner-centered design principles and guidelines becomes even more paramount for maximizing the potential of IT in a CBT environment. This emerging focus on learner-centered CBT design illustrates a crucial balancing act: on one hand, CBT design needs to capitalize on IT’s power and availability; on the other hand, human cognitive limitations need to be considered when developing complex CBT. However, current learner-centered CBT design may be insufficient when individual learner aptitudes come into play. To further improve the efficiency of CBT design, it is pivotal to understand how individual learner characteristics can differentially influence training outcomes (e.g., Mayer, 2001). With this objective in mind, in this article, we present an empirical examination of the interaction between CBT design and individual aptitudes in relation to their impact on the training’s learning outcomes and instructional efficiency.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Instructional Efficiency: An index of training efficiency that combines learners’ subjective appraisal of mental workload in the training environment with learners’ performance on knowledge testing. The instructional efficiency index ranges from -1 to +1, with negative scores indicating lower instructional efficiency, and positive scores indicating higher instructional efficiency. Baseline instructional efficiency is indicated by zero.
Computer-Based Training: The use of computers as a medium to convey instructional material. Typically, computer-based training replaces the instructor and allows learners to interact with multimedia content in a self-paced environment.
Dual-Coding Theory: A theory of learning that indicates the benefit from learning via two noncompeting modalities (in terms of accessing the same attentional resources) such as text and images. The dual-coding benefit refers to the increased probability of information retrieval when compared to encoding information with only one modality.
Individual Differences: Learners variability in terms of knowledge, skills, and attitudes. In a computer-based training environment, individual differences play a potential mediating role between training manipulations and learning.
Aptitude-Treatment Interaction: The interaction of learners’ individual differences (i.e., aptitudes) with experimental manipulations (i.e., treatment). In the context of computer-based training, aptitude-treatment interactions illustrate the differential effect of design manipulations when factoring-in specific learners’ aptitudes (e.g., verbal and spatial ability).
Learner-Centered CBT: A computer-based training interface designed to account for learners’ individual differences by either adapting to the learners’ aptitudes, such as intelligent tutoring systems, or by providing an interface designed to accommodate a specific learner aptitude (e.g., low verbal or spatial aptitude).
Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning: A theory of multimedia information processing for computer-based training paradigms. This theory underscores the importance of supporting the three fundamental cognitive processes leading to learning: information selection, organization, and integration.