This chapter discusses a theoretical framework for designing multimedia in which manipulation, rather than perception, of objects plays the predominant role. The framework is based on research by cognitive psychologists and on Engelkamp’s (1998) multimodal model of action-based learning. Although the assumptions of Engelkamp’s model should be helpful for instructional design, they are not complete enough to include the additional demands of multimedia learning. These additional demands can result in unintended actions, involve sequences of related actions, and require reflection about domain-specific knowledge. Actions can be performed on either physical or virtual manipulatives, but virtual manipulatives exist in idealized environments, support continuous transformations of objects, and allow for dynamic linking to other objects, symbols, and data displays. The use of manipulatives in the Building Blocks and Animation Tutor projects provide illustrations.
There are few theoretical frameworks for understanding the role that object manipulation plays in instruction. In my article on cognitive architectures for multimedia learning (Reed, 2006) only one of the six theories incorporated action. Engelkamp’s (1998) multimodal theory was designed to account for the recall of long lists of action phrases such as “saw wood”, “play a flute”, “blow out a candle”, and “water a plant”. The recall of action phrases is a very different task than the ones designed for multimedia learning but the central finding of this research is relevant. That finding – labeled the enactment effect – is that acting out phrases results in better recall than simply reading phrases (Engelkamp, 1998).
The multimodal components of Engelkamp’s theory are illustrated in Figure 1. They consist of a nonverbal input (visual) and output (enactment) system and a verbal input (hearing, reading) and output (speaking, writing) system. All four of these modality-specific components are connected to a conceptual system. Engelkamp (1998) describes the many assumptions of his multimodal theory in his book Memory for Actions. I have listed the major assumptions (and page numbers) in Table 1 (See Appendix) and evaluate them below within the context of recent research on memory and reasoning.
A flow chart of Englekamp’s (1998) multimodal memory theory