The degree of access and navigation control to permit users in an interactive learning environment is an issue which is unresolved. Does the designer allow learners to enter a program and control operation, pace, and direction at will or should all or some of this freedom be removed by providing guidance? Recent studies on learner control highlights some areas where special attention should be given. A flexible control function is recommended which may go some way to making interactive multimedia compatible with most user's needs.
From an educational /psychological perspective this technological driven information "explosion" should permit learners to operate independently at their own rate. This should free instruction from the constraints of more traditional teaching/learning situations occurring in a classroom setting. In particular where teachers are compelled, for practical reasons, to lean towards the capability level of the less competent learners thus frustrating the more able. Perhaps the most significant educational opportunities of these new technologies is that learners can be placed in a more active role. This, it is argued, will motivate students as they are in control of their own learning.
Between these two parameters lies a range of options whereby the designer can permit learners some freedom of control, but with the inclusion of a degree of adaptation and/or advisement to assist. This more flexible control mode can take many forms and includes informing students of their performance relative to a set standard and suggesting the amount of instruction needed. Students can then make their own decisions about the amount and sequence of instruction needed. Another variation of this is to assess performance and advise students as above, but then automatically adapt the amount and sequence of materials to the learner's needs (Hooper, Temiyakan & Williams, 1993; Reeves, 1993; Arnone, 1992).
Several educationalists have investigated and summarised the research on the effectiveness of learner control (Balajthy, 1988; Ross & Morrison, 1989; Steinberg, 1989). Their findings have shown inconsistency in results and suggest caution to designer/ developers striving to determine the degree of control to permit learners in an interactive environment.
On first impression, the provision of learner control should allow students to tailor their instructional experiences to suit personal needs and interests, thus increasing instructional relevance and continuing motivation and assisting in development of instructional strategies, promoting perceptions of personal control (Kinzie, 1990, p10). Exercising control can be an important learning activity where instructional decisions are made, outcomes experienced, and in the process the best tactics for different situations may be discovered (Merrill in Steinberg, 1989). Learner control, it is argued, can alleviate boredom, frustration, and anxiety because it enables students to bypass elements of the contents. These may be materials which the student views as irrelevant and uninteresting, or previously learned topics. Learner control and its influence of stimulating curiosity and hence motivation can enhance learning (Arnone, 1992).
Although the concept of learner control in interactive multimedia is widely accepted as having positive learning attributes, there are dangers if designers allow all learners "free scope" to all materials in this environment. Marchionni (1988) advised that freedom can be confusing because it increases the decision making load. Another warning has been that the less the student's prior knowledge the less effective learner control tends to be (Ross, Morrison, & O'Dell, 1988, p. 678).
In a review of learner control in computer based learning, Steinberg (in Balajthy, 1988) showed increased motivation was evident, but that this control does not necessarily result in improved learning. Balajthy investigated learner control in a range of teaching areas and concluded that there are serious questions about its effectiveness in instructional materials. Rubincan and Oliver (in Balajthy) surveyed eleven studies and found that only two indicated superior performance by groups under learner control whereas five studies indicated superior performance by groups who were not under learner control.
Chen (1989) warned that low ability students perform poorly when allowed freedom of control. He cited other researchers who feared that this "free learning" format might interfere with achievement of less competent, less confident students. Learners may opt to skip important material or quit too soon. Chen believed that learner control may only be effective with high ability learners, or with those who have some prior knowledge of the content. Kinzie (1990) also expressed concern with the use of some interactive learning systems where inexperienced users can find learner control to be confusing. She emphasised that instruction should include information about learner control options and permit practice in exercising them (p. 12).
Cohen (1984) suggested three important techniques for enhancing quality of interactivity when designing interactive materials. Firstly, the provision of non-linear pathways allowing user to choose direction depending on needs. Secondly, feedback which ensures remediation. This can include locating errors and informing learners why it is wrong and how it can be corrected. Lastly, Cohen suggested that learners be permitted options which allow the content, pace, and instructional strategies to be controlled.
Hannafin and Colamaio (1987) argued that providing learners with some guidance is superior to giving them total control and results in enhanced performance. Learner control studies in general support the view that the amount of additional assistance provided could be adjusted according to learner sophistication. This can be implemented by giving some control and self determination and thereby act as motivating activities that are "neither too difficult nor too easy" (Lepper & Malone, 1988, p.4). For high ability learners such modifications may be minimal. The designer of interactive multimedia could then permit degrees of user control to be varied, thus maximising an individual's motivation to the learning materials.
Kearsley (1988) identified an essential component when designing interactive multimedia as structuring knowledge in a way that an overview can be presented. This can help to establish a mental image of topics covered in order to facilitate traversal and reduce disorientation. Not all writers are convinced of the value of overview strategies. Seal-Wanner (1988) believed that students gain knowledge through trial and error experimentation that eventually leads to understanding of the system. Phillips & Hannafin (1988) agreed with this and claimed that recent research has suggested that the effects of orienting activities and elaborations are often subsumed by more powerful instructional variables such as en-route practice. Phillips and Hannafin added that orienting activities may provide processing support where little or no inherent lesson organisation exists, but that they may be of little value in well organised lessons.
Today's hardware and software provides the tools to produce quality visual displays. Allen (1975) reviewed research on intellectual abilities and visual treatment of learning materials. He suggested that animated visuals, close ups, large pictures, visual pointers, and use of colour can be employed as attention directing devices which instructional designers can utilise with lower ability learners. According to Allen, visual devices suitable for high mental ability learners can include multi-screen, multi-image, high speed of presentation of pictorial stimuli, and a combination of pictorial and narration.
Another graphical element which can enhance learning in multimedia is the use of imagery. This can call upon the learner's ability to mentally visualise situations to assist with operation and understanding. The designer using imagery must be aware of the individual differences in learners' abilities to manipulate mental images. Langham-Johnson (1984) and Herrman (1989) found that some individuals can modify mental images at will, whereas others apparently cannot.
Enlisting potential users to assist with user control elements of multimedia can be a significant factor to successful utilisation. This involvement can occur throughout design, development and implementation stages. User involvement has been a strategy attempted by the author with two multimedia productions being developed at the School of Occupational Therapy at Curtin University. The first package is a recreational activities and facilities database for occupational therapists (Cameron, 1992) and the other is a self paced teaching resource on vocational rehabilitation equipment and procedures.
Undergraduate students have been involved in the design and development throughout the life of the recreation project. To date, over 260 students have been involved in researching recreational data, in a range of media formats. The results of their efforts have not only become part of this information resource, but have contributed also to the student's assessment for the unit. Over 100 occupational therapy students have formed the population in tests on prototype versions and have been encouraged to contribute to the user control elements.
Individuals and small groups of students have worked on several design elements including: exploring alternative designs, conducting questionnaires and pilot studies with practicing therapists; designing a version of the database for clients of therapists with special needs.
Hooper, Temiyakarn, & Williams (1993) pointed out that groups working around one computer not Only assist administratively and financially, "but appears to have important cognitive and affective benefits" (p.5). They referred to research indicating that cooperative learning can reduce hardware and software problem that hinder the achievement of less able students working alone. For instance, it can foster important cognitive activities such as active learning and modelling a partner's behaviour. Active processing of information is promoted as individuals explain to colleagues, utilising elaborations between new and existing knowledge. In a comparative study of group versus individual learning on computers, Hooper, et al, found that groups covered instruction faster and established a learning environment in which cognitive and navigation difficulties were overcome. Additionally, groups had more positive attitudes towards the computer lesson than did individuals working alone. Female users in particular prefer working on computers in groups according to Hanson (1987) as it helps to meet their social, interaction needs.
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|Author: Mr Don Cameron, Lecturer, School of Occupational Therapy, Curtin University of Technology, Selby Street, Shenton Park, Perth, WA 6008. Tel: 381 0600 Fax: 381 1496. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: Cameron, D. (1994). Accessing contents of multimedia: What degree of freedom to permit the user. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 65-70. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/bc/cameron.html