Comprehensive Reflection


Beginnings...

I have worked at several institutions of higher learning in a technology support capacity for over ten years now.  I am the fixer of computers, the tinkerer of software, and the trainer of faculty on how to use multimedia technology in the classroom. Through the years many of my coworkers opted to obtain Master’s degrees in Educational Technology, thus introducing me to the notion. The technology side of course interested me greatly, as I had for years been drawn to computers and software support and chose to make a career out of them. The education side of it however I was not so sure about. I thought getting a degree in education was just something teachers did, and by teachers I pictured a woman standing in front of a chalk board with a room full of 6th graders… not that there is anything wrong with that but definitely not the career choice for me.

Having heard such great things about the educational technology program from my coworkers I finally decided to take the plunge myself. I never would have thought that it would be the “educational” side of the degree, the theories and models on how people learn and principles on how to present instruction to achieve maximum learning and retention, that would make the most impact on me. The tech nerd has made room for the educator. In this reflection, I will highlight some of the ideas that had the most effect on me during my coursework and why they have been so useful to me.

Idea #1: Mayer’s Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning

There are few theories that stick out in my mind more than Richard Mayer’s cognitive theory of multimedia learning, comprised of twelve principles of instructional design that when utilized help people learn more deeply. These principles are based on research studies concerning how people learn from words and pictures. Some of the principles that I have found particularly useful include:

  • Spatial contiguity: People learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near rather than far from each other on the page or screen
  • Coherence: Learning is improved when unneeded words and symbols are eliminated from a multimedia presentation
  • Segmenting: People learn better when a multimedia message is presented in user paced segments, rather than as a continuous unit
  • Pre-training: People learn better from a multimedia lesson when they know the names and characteristics of the main concepts. (Mayer, 2009)

I was first introduced to Mayer’s principles during my EDTEC 640, Psychology of Technology Based Learning, course. During that course, we were tasked with improving an existing presentation of particularly bad design by incorporating Mayer’s principles. Seeing the drastic change in the quality of the slide show, of how the information was taught, really struck a chord with me. It was all of a sudden crystal clear that just because you present the appropriate information to the learner does not mean that they will easily learn or retain it. Just as much as the content, the way it is presented also matters significantly.

Since taking EDTEC 640 I have incorporated Mayer’s principles as much as possible, such as utilizing segmenting and coherence in my individualized instruction tutorial on rattlesnakes, and incorporating pre-training, spatial contiguity, and segmenting when creating our eLearning prototype for the ED 795A/B client project.

Mayer’s principles go hand in hand with cognitive load theory, which is another “idea” that I’ve found incredibly useful during my EDTEC coursework.

Idea #2: Cognitive Load

Information is processed by working memory before it can be stored in long term memory (Myers, 2004). According to a guideline published by George Miller in 1956, our cognitive system can only process 7 plus or minus 2 items at one time. If we exceed those limits, our working memory gets overloaded and our learning processes bog down. Cognitive load theory is a set of instructional principles aimed at balancing the three forms of cognitive load (intrinsic, germane, and extraneous) in order to maximize learning efficiency (Clark et. al., 2006).

  • Intrinsic: the inherent level of difficulty associated with instructional materials.
  • Extraneous: generated by the manner in which information is presented to learners and is under the control of instructional designers
  • Germane: devoted to the processing, construction and automation of schemas. (Cognitive load, n.d.)

I became very familiar with cognitive load theory during an EDTEC 544 project in which our group (consisting of myself, Matthew Chong, Rachel Gastrich, Brian Levels, and Jennifer Young) created a webquest presentation on cognitive load and instructional methods to reduce overload on working memory. The various instructional methods that help minimize cognitive overload, such as chunking, split attention, and worked examples, all came in very handy in subsequent projects I worked on.

For example, in my ED 795A/B client project, our team (consisting of Jess Sanders and Jeanine Thomas) incorporated chunking and reducing split attention in a flash animation mockup intended to teach a learner the various airports in 6 sectors of California airspace. The animation listed the airports by sector and each sector was color coded throughout the learning module, thereby chunking them in manageable segments for retention. In addition, the animation placed the airport codes in their corresponding locations on the map, versus off to the side, to minimize split attention. 

Image of flash animation screenshots

Idea #3: Analysis is key!

Another aspect of the EDTEC program that made a lasting impact on me is analysis. Before taking EDTEC 540 I really didn’t see the importance of conducting analysis, especially if you were close to the problem at hand and could probably figure out what to do to solve the problem. For example, the issue I chose to conduct my first performance analysis on was a problem I was seeing at work with end users having trouble operating equipment in a classroom. Other similar issues had occurred in the past, so I just chalked it up to user error, or that the users in question just did not pay attention during their training so would need to be trained again. After conducting a performance analysis, with a lot of guidance from Mager and Pipe (1997), I ate my words! The problems they were having stemmed from other factors I would not have looked closely at before, such as environmental problems of poor equipment labeling and lack of communication from support staff on equipment changes. Additionally,

Conducting a thorough set of analyses has greatly guided many of my subsequent EDTEC projects. For our ED 795A client project, they already had in their mind what they wanted to do to improve an existing training program… just get it online so students can take the classes from anywhere. The audience, task and environmental analyses we conducted changed the direction quite a bit as many students interviewed did not feel comfortable taking a purely online course.  That and other important data uncovered because of the analysis helped us arrive at a more appropriate solution for that particular client: to provide supplemental eLearning modules that would go hand in hand with the in-class instruction.

Going through the motions of my first performance analysis was one of the greatest “aha!” moments I had during my years as an EDTEC student: analysis is a crucial step in solving problems. That was proven time and time again as through my coursework and I now look at analysis with a much higher regard than I did before I joined the EDTEC program.

In the years to come...

These great ideas have had a profound impact on how I view education and creating instruction to maximize learning. I see these effective principles and strategies continuing on well into the future of education, and I am particularly interested in seeing them applied to a new generation of educational technology tools and devices.

Like many people nowadays I am constantly tied to my smartphone. Texting, tweeting, blogging, web surfing… it’s all on a phone now and that’s where education has been heading as well. I read an interesting article recently that discussed a growing trend in using mobile technology for educational purposes, such as accessing learning management systems (LMS), on college campuses.

“Students of all ages increasingly expect their colleges and universities to provide the kinds of app-based resources and services they utilize and enjoy as consumers… Indeed, mobile apps are the new campus portal, as buttons on a smartphone screen replace the bookmarks on an Internet browser or the hot links on a campus portal.” (Grush, 2011)

While mobile applications on campus is still in its infancy, many of the colleges surveyed for the article at least have a mobile application strategy in the works for possible implementation. All three of my favorite ideas from the EDTEC realm will no doubt be critical in ensuring the next generation of mobile educational resources are effective learning tools. From initial analyses, to incorporating the learning principles and strategies laid out in cognitive load theory and Mayer’s twelve principles, mobile resources will be as effective as traditional resources in providing not only information but eventually instruction right at a student’s fingertips.

As we move into this next decade, I am eager to have a hand in creating such tools and instruction using what I have learned in this valuable EDTEC master’s program. While it feels as though sometimes it is difficult to keep up with ever changing technology, this degree has given me such a strong foundation and skill set in how people learn most effectively that I know I will be able to incorporate those skills using this next generation’s instructional tools.

References

Clark, R., Nguyen, F., & Sweller, J. (2006). Efficiency in learning: evidence-based guidelines to manage cognitive load. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Cognitive load. Retrieved from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_load

Grush, M. (2011, April).  Moving to mobile! Campus Technology, 24, 42.

Mager, R.F. & Pipe, P. (1997). Analyzing performance problems. Atlanta, GA: The Center for Effective Performance, Inc.

Mayer, R.E. (2009). Multimedia learning, second edition. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Myers, D. G. (2004). Psychology. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.