My experience with visual media has lagged just slightly behind it’s growth and development over the years. As an unabashed life-long learner most of my years were spent as a visual media consumer. My development as a generator of media is in it’s infancy.
From an educational perspective, during my primary and secondary years, that generally meant viewing some form of old video or film displayed from a noisy old projector that was pushed into the classroom by a kid that was bestowed the title of “media center aide”, but actually received little aide himself when it came to running the equipment. Often, the teacher, if even still in the room while it played, sat quietly at the back of the room staring blankly with us at the presentation. In the end, the media tie in back to the learning objective, or value whatsoever, may or may not have been apparent.
The early years of my military career did not fare much better. There we traded in the underpaid, burnt out teacher from our childhood years for an underpaid burly old crusty Sergeant (full disclosure, he was old in the eyes of an 18 year old. At most he was in his early 30’s). His tools of the trade at that time were more often in the form of a once translucent acetate, displayed on an overhead projector. Years of salt intrusion from sweaty palms and repetitive writing and wiping with the marker (the special effects tool of the time) had long prior turned each sheet a hazy yellow. The presentation was often enhanced with his glowing personality (he really enjoyed glowing loudly in your face if he sensed you not grasping his message quick enough).
The military often serves as a proving ground for technology though, so I was exposed to a number of transitional technologies during the latter portion of my career. In terms of carbon dating, let’s just say it spanned from manual typewriter, to IBM Selectric ball typewriter (we thought that was something), to “a” desktop CPU in every building, to eventually laptops and PDA’s all around.
I experienced a number of forms of computer-based-trainings (CBT’s) over the years as well. The platforms changed frequently. One of the most memorable to me employed touch screen technology (pretty new at the time). It was training to learn how to properly safe all of the ejection seats in a B1B Bomber cockpit, so it would be safe to perform maintenance. Following a slide show presentation, which had very crisp narrated views touring you around the cockpit, there was a quiz. By dragging the picture around with your finger you could move around the cockpit. Holding your finger on a spot zoomed it into that location. You basically had to touch a safety pin, then move to the proper point in the plane and point to the exact spot where it went.
Looking back now, the learning effectiveness was not so much from the presentation as it was from the fact that it would not let you exit the program or back up to the instructional slides. You had to just keep retrying until you hit it right. Despite the gaps in UX design, and basic learning strategy, my fascination with the new technology left me feeling like it was the most effective lesson I had ever experienced.
Years later, when I first heard Richard E. Clark’s infamous learning media argument that “the best current evidence is that media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition” (Clark, 1983) I immediately thought back to that CBT on the seats. I have since read a fair amount on both sides of that argument, but I still feel that the use of a multi-modal strategy on that training stands the test of time. Many of us would not have achieved success purely with a single mode learning approach.
For the last couple of years it has been my professional pleasure to try and create that same sort of multi-modal learning experience for my internal customers at work. It is nothing as elaborate as a touchscreen platform with 360 degree views, but I do attempt a large inclusion of both stills and video. I still have much to learn, but we do see results in the form of more standardized execution of procedures. Perhaps someday one of my team will look back upon one of my products as a positive learning experience as well. It’s something to shoot for anyway.
Clark, R. E. (1983). Reconsidering Research on Learning from Media.
Review of Educational Research, (4). 445. Retrieved from