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Learning from Media: Arguments, Analysis, and Evaluation
Perspectives in Instructional Technology and Distance Learning
(edited by Richard E. Clark. 2001. Information Age Publishing, Inc.)

LeAnne K. Robinson, Ph.D
Assistant Professor
Department of Special Education
Program in Instructional Technology
Western Washington University


Instructional technologists continue to explore how the interaction between students, various technologies, and instructional methods impact learning. Even when a researcher concludes that learning has been enhanced within the context of a study, there is generally some argument surrounding the variable, or variables that actually influenced student achievement. Learning from Media: Arguments, Analysis, and Evaluation is a compilation of articles that frames the methods versus media debate between Richard E. Clark and Robert B. Kozma. Spanning fifteen years of public discourse, the book includes eighteen separate articles previously published in a variety of journals. The opening chapter introduces Clarks proposition:

“The 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 nutrition”. (p. 2)

In the first 125 pages, Clark outlines his perception of the problems and confounds associated with early media comparison studies and computer based interaction research. These include novelty effects, confounds of instructional methods and compensatory rivalry. A detailed explanation of media attribute theory hypothesis is given and Clark includes a summary of counter arguments to his position.

Starting with Chapter 8, the reader is provided with Kozma’s rebuttal that media does influence learning. Several articles are devoted to how the characteristics of technologies, multiple symbol systems available with technologies and mental processing can uniquely interact and influence learning. Kozma reframes the question by stating:

“…the appropriate question is not do but will media influence learning…..If there is no relationship between media and learning it may be because we have not yet made one. If we do not understand the potential relationship between media and learning, quite likely one will not be made. And finally, if we preclude consideration of a relationship in our theory and research by conceptualizing media as ‘mere vehicles’, we are likely to never understand the potential for such a relationship”. (p. 179-180)

The final chapters of the book are devoted to clarifying the current thinking of both technologists and provide thoughts and insights into future research that could enhance what is known about the effects of media and learning. Included in the article co-authored by Clark and Fred Estes, “New Directions: How to Develop Authentic Technologies”, an example of a research and development model for instructional technology is outlined. Authentic Technologies are described as “educational solutions resulting from a systematic analysis that identifies the problem being solved, selects and translates appropriate, well devised reach and applies it to design culturally appropriate educational solutions” (p. 242). Several of the articles, including this one, could be used to generate dialogue relative to media effects and research design.

Admittedly, I was initially concerned by the potential bias, as the book is edited by Clark and contains a majority of his original articles. After a complete read I was ultimately pleased with how the text systematically articulated the development of the argument from the beginning to the present day. The changing nature of the debate that can be difficult to see when the articles are read separately over time, is more readily illuminated. As multiple key references related to the methods versus media question are now available in one place, it is easy to compare and contrast the differences of opinion. I found myself returning to previous articles and selections to compare statements made as authors developed individual positions. This read prompted a re-consideration and refinement of my personal beliefs regarding the role of media in learning.

Providing an avenue for reflection, Learning from Media could be used to assist in the development and articulation of a personal stance relative to the effects media has (or doesn’t have) on student achievement. I highly recommend this text to anyone interested in re-examining (or examining), the issues surrounding media and the relationship to student learning.

January 2004 IDT Record