Research on the Effects of Media and Pedagogy in Distance Education

Research on the Effects of Media and Pedagogy in Distance Education

Lou Yiping (Louisiana State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-503-2.ch408


Do media influence learning? This is a historical debate in the field of educational technology, which started when Clark (1983, 1994) argued that media are “mere vehicles” and it is the content and pedagogical methods that are the “active ingredients” influencing student learning. Others (e.g., Kozma, 1994; Cobb, 1997) disagreed and argued that special media attributes can make certain types of learning more effective or cognitively efficient. In this chapter, I will first review the key arguments for and against media effects in distance education (DE). I will then review several meta-analyses that attempted to analyze the effects of media and pedagogy based on quantitative syntheses of the empirical research in DE. Finally, I will discuss directions for future research.
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Arguments for and against Media Effects in Distance Education

The media effects debate has continued in the context of distance education (DE), especially regarding the need for comparative studies. Clark (2000) believes that comparing media-supported DE versus classroom instruction is similar to the old studies on computer-based instruction and that the research on the effects of DE has the same problem of media and method confound. Therefore, he calls for conducting multi-level evaluation studies on student perceptions of motivation using both quantitative and qualitative data such as questionnaires and cost-effective issues of DE programs instead of experimental studies.

Smith and Dillon (1999) argue for the continued need of comparative studies. They feel that the way to solve the media and method confounding problem is to describe not only the physical characteristics of delivery media but also how media attributes are used to support student learning in the studies. Such features may include bandwidth of a delivery system, whether the communication is one-way or two-way, synchronous or asynchronous, and interface design. A media attribute associated with bandwidth is realism, which may be used to support the learning of concrete versus abstract symbols. Media attributes associated with one-way/two-way communication are interactivity and feedback, which can facilitate active engagement and adaptation to learners. A media attribute associated with interface is branching, which may support learner control and self-directed navigation. They believe that by describing these media attributes and how they are used to support student learning in DE should help researchers un-entangle the media and method confound, thereby, providing theory-based research evidence to direct effective design of distance education.

Early Synthesis Effort

Regardless of Clark’s argument and repeated call against media and DE comparative research (1983, 1994, 2001), a considerable number of DE comparative studies have been and continue to be conducted, esp., after each wave of an emerging information communication technology. As is the case in most educational research, some studies found positive effects favoring DE, some found no significant or negative effects.

Russell (1999) compiled and annotated 335 studies published from 1928 to 1998 that reported no significant difference between mediated DE and classroom instruction. The collection does not include any studies that report significant findings, either positive or negative. Russell’ rationale for compiling no significant difference studies only was that these studies considerably outnumbered those that reported significant findings. Based on his collection, Russell concluded that the results support Clark’s theory of no media effects on student learning. Although the study was widely cited, the selective vote-counting approach has been most criticized for its lack of rigor and incomplete picture of DE effects (Bernard et al., 2004; Layton, 1999).

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