• Question: We have become increasingly a visual society and multimedia learning promotes a combination of textual and visual learning. Yet text-drive teaching persists and there must be good scientific reasons for this,and for its lengthy tradition over the millennia. What are the cognitive or biological, or neurobiological or neuroscience reasons written text works well for teaching?

    Asked by docrob900 on 20 Jun 2018.
    • Photo: anon

      anon answered on 20 Jun 2018:

      An interesting question. Are you thinking about textbooks for example, where information is presented using text and static images, compared with other media such as computers and TV could use videos and spoken word?

      Research into learning and memory has found that simply reading information is not the best way to learn. https://www.city.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/372817/1.-Multisensory-learning-guide.pdf
      It is important to take an active role in making sense of the information, such as through writing things in your own words, or presenting the information in a different format (e.g. mindmaps, which can also highlight links between concepts). However, the same applies to when information is delivered in other formats, such as spoken word. Recent research has shown that students that make their own notes during a lecture are able to remember more than those who make notes on lecture-slide handouts. http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2018/5/31-1

      So, regardless of how information might be presented (written, verbal, images, film), it’s important that students actively engage with the content, as this will lead to better learning and remembering.

      Another aspect of writing is its importance in helping students to organise and clarify information. These articles might be of interest – they give some suggestions of how writing can be used in teaching:


    • Photo: Sveta Mayer

      Sveta Mayer answered on 24 Jun 2018:

      Hi docrob900, your question is wide scoping so will have a go and answer from my science research perspective and focus on multimedia learning. I understand what you mean when you say ‘text-drive teaching persists’. For me text represents visual stimuli because text consists of visual symbols representing sound of words used for communicating while of course images as visual stimuli consist of visual pictures representing what we see, actions and interaction we may make with the world around us. The persistence of such stimuli for communication as well as learning has been in existence since prehistoric time – the cave paintings being example of earliest images – and of course the Egyptian hieroglyphs.

      In present time, (sometimes referred to as the information age or digital age) use of text and images (especially those that are moving) in multimedia technology draw users attention to what is being communicated (i.e. the information) and the learner attends to this as a learning experience. In addition, there is increasing use of audio narration as well as the motor (tactile) experience of interactive engagement with the technology user interface such as iPad, touchscreen using hands or eStylus.

      With this in mind I’d say the user learning experience through multimedia is multisensory yet also integrated. That is, the user is presented with multi-sensory information at the same time and this information is processed in parallel in the brain. From the developmental cognitive neuroscience perspective, this multisensory learning experience elicits activation of multisensory neural circuitry involving the visual, auditory, and motor brain circuits (this is of course a simplification as other neural circuits would also be recruited). What I’m trying to say is that our understanding reveals brain regions don’t function in isolation rather communicate with each other.

      From an education perspective where the pedagogy enables learning experiences through multisensory integration then multisensory neural circuitry development may be supported. However, we need to exercise personalization of the multisensory learning experience based upon learner’s age and also whether they have problems with sensory processing (e.g. learners with autism, which is my area of interest) whereby learners may be highly receptive or non-receptive to certain sensory stimuli.

      You might find it interesting to read about some research studies into multisensory learning with infants and children across different age groups as part of the Multisensory Learning Project at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development (see reference below). I’m currently working on a project called SEE+ Autism (Social and Emotional Engagement through Observation) to design and evaluate a computer-based learning augmented with face-to-face support from a learning partner for primary aged children with autism (see reference below). You might also find it interesting to read Mazurek (2013) blog in The Scientist offering a critique to the use of multimedia learning, in particular gaming. The critique is relevant for all children as it cautions on the unintended outcomes, such as for example addictive behavior and isolation when, when children engage in gaming. If you want to learn more about multimedia learning then take a look at the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching blog with a summary, video and further reading on Richard E. Mayer’s lecture about principles for multimedia learning (see reference below).

      • Multisensory Project – Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck College London. http://cbcd.bbk.ac.uk/research/multisensory-learning-project/studies
      • SEE+ Autism Project: Mayer, S. (2018) CEN Seminar: What’s involved in designing and evaluating an education intervention? http://www.educationalneuroscience.org.uk/2018/05/11/cen-seminar-whats-involved-in-designing-and-evaluating-an-education-intervention/
      • Mazurek, M. (2013). Gaming with Autism. The Scientist January 2013 Issue: https://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/33733/title/Gaming-with-Autism/
      • Richard E. Mayer (2014). Principles for multimedia learning with Richard E. Mayer: https://hilt.harvard.edu/blog/principles-multimedia-learning-richard-e-mayer