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The sudden emergence of a lethal virus necessitating social distancing required billions of students worldwide to engage in various forms of e-learning, the effects of which are currently unknown. In some instructional contexts, the overall proportion of e-learning relative to in-person classes may continue on an upward trajectory. A long-history of media comparison research shows that learning is less a function of the delivery medium and more reflective of instructional methods that support human cognitive processes. In this chapter I emphasize evidence-based e-learning methods that (1) manage mental load, (2) promote productive engagement, and (3) offer feedback that guides learners to improved responses. I discuss the use of these methods to guide the design of digital explanations, engagement opportunities, and feedback in synchronous and asynchronous e-learning. I also discuss emerging digital learning opportunities in the form of interactive virtual reality and learning games.
This chapter provides a systematic analysis of the links between intelligent tutoring systems (ITS) and multimedia, and identifies the multimedia elements that are used by different ITS applications. It discusses the implications of ITS findings for cognitive theory and instructional design, identifies limitations of existing research, and provides some directions for the future. Problem-solving tutors typically use a mixture of text and graphic media. Simulation-based ITS remain popular, particularly for tasks that are tightly linked to an operational environment, such as power plants, aviation, or military exercises. Game-based tutoring systems make use of the widest range of media to present content, especially those that combine elements from natural language tutors and simulation-based tutors. Research on advanced learning environments has investigated multimedia factors that have obvious links to deeper levels of cognition, such as feedback, learner control, and generation of information, interactivity, reflection, animation, simulation, and affect.
E-learning is on the rise in both the public and private sectors. However, learning outcomes are either flat or remain unknown. Therefore, it is important to ground e-learning design, development, and selection on the basis of credible evidence. Research on multimedia instruction in the last two decades has moved beyond “Which media is best?” studies to more productive questions regarding the best use of instructional methods that support cognitive learning processes. This chapter reviews research evidence on what we know about how best to use three unique media features that together distinguish e-learning from other delivery media: audio modality, animations, and simulations. In each case, evidence suggests that practitioners exploit unique media capabilities by applying guidelines for their use that accommodate the strengths and limits of human cognitive processes.
Introduction to E-Learning
Although still a distant second to classroom instruction, e-learning is steadily increasing in media market share as an instructional delivery alternative for learners from 5 to 85. Sixteen percent of instruction in business and industry was delivered by computer in 2003 – up from 12% the previous year (Galvin, 2003). Almost 90% of all universities with more than 10,000 students offer some form of distance learning – nearly all of which use the Internet (Svetcov, 2000). Public education has also invested heavily in information technology with multimedia computer ratios dropping from 21 students per computer in 1997 to fewer than 10 in 2000 (Cuban, 2001).
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