Vol. 15 : No. 4
Editors Note: This interesting provocative position came to our attention on the DEOS-L, Monday, January 15, 2001. Dr. Morrison gave us permission, with referral to DEOS and some additional editing, to share these concepts with our readers.
Theory, Research and Practice
Gary R. Morrison
As long as we try to prove the value or effectiveness of a media delivery system, whether it is computer-based instruction, overhead projectors, or web-based instruction, we are doomed. First, comparing two delivery systems is an inappropriate evaluation. Consider the Shannon-Weaver communication model that illustrates that the sign vehicle carrier does not change the message. If the sign vehicle carrier or medium does not change the message, why would expect one medium (i.e., sign vehicle carrier) to be better than another? This concept is well documented in the instructional technology field by Knowlton in the 60's and more recently by Clark.
Second, look at the past 50 years of research, no significant difference. It is the instructional strategy, not the medium that makes a difference.
If you try to compare media, you have to keep the instruction constant. If you keep it constant, and the medium does not change the message/instruction, you will find no significant difference. An alternative approach is the one proposed by Steven M. Ross and I, which is a media replication study (ETR&D, 1989, 1). The instruction is designed for the particular medium and then you can research the various strategies delivered in different media, but not comparing the media.
A more appropriate approach to determine the effectiveness or viability of distance education is through an evaluation study. Did the instruction help learners achieve the objectives? If not, then either the instruction or system does not work. Was the instruction efficient? Was it cost effective? If so, then the system is successful if it provides instruction and/or creates an instructional environment conducive to learning.
These are the questions we should ask. Similarly, we should be researching instructional strategies that work. Gary Anglin and my research review of three journals publishing distance education research (Quarterly Review of Distance Education, Fall, 2000) found that well designed research on effective strategies was lacking in the distance education literature. When Steve Eskow asks for the research, I would have to say that it is missing. There are a lot of "reports from the field," but few if any are backed by valid and reliable data.
Given the few distance education courses I have reviewed both for professional/ business environments and for higher education, it is easy to see why distance education is not a shining star. The courses I have reviewed are programmed instruction reinvented with new bells and whistles, or worse, a repository for a lot of information. Information is not instruction and may or may not lead to learning.
The courses still emphasize rote memory learning. As long as we focus on outdated instructional strategies and emphasize rote memory learning to keep the learner "busy," we can hardly expect to meet the needs of the learner, employer, and society, unless we are teaching airport codes. Programmed instruction bombed in print, it bombed with computer-based instruction, it looks like it will bomb again on the web.
Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research & Development, 42, 21-30.
Knowlton, J. (1964). A conceptual scheme for the audiovisual field. Bulletin of the School of Education: Indiana University, 41, 1-44.
Morrison, G. R. (1994). The media effects question: "Unresolvable" or asking the right question. Educational Technology Research & Development, 42, 41-44.
About the Author:
Dr. Gary R. Morrison has worked as instructional designer at the University of Mid-America, Solar Turbines International, General Electric Company's Corporate Consulting Group, and Tenneco Oil Company. He is currently professor at Wayne State University, where he teaches instructional design. His credits include print projects, multimedia projects, and instructional video programs including a five-part series aired nationally on PBS. Gary served as co-director of Project SMART at The University of Memphis to enhance science and math instruction through innovative uses of microcomputers.
Gary has written over 100 papers on topics related to instructional design and computer-based instruction, as well as contributing to several books chapters and instructional software packages. He is co-author of Designing Effective Instruction (3rd edition) with Steven M. Ross and Jerold E Kemp. He is the associate editor of the research section of Educational Technology Research and Development and past president of AECT's Research and Theory Division.
Gary can be contacted by phone: 313-577-1679, Fax: 248-888-8545, and email: email@example.com