For some terrible reasons I find myself studying/reading during horror movies, which I love. To be clear though I do re-read the material without distraction later. It's as if each activity, studying or watching a movie, is not engaging enough on its own. Outside of school I still do the same thing. I'll work on a project, watch a movie, stop, get up, clean something, etc. I had to write about this a few years ago and learning why it was not so effective was interesting yet didn't change my study habits. Now I listen to a podcast or audiobook while reading a book or article at the same time. I feel like one portion has become boring and I want to focus on the other. But how would I know unless I were paying close attention?
As I read over articles and case studies on multimedia learning a movie is playing on my television. It’s The Descent, a horror movie from 2005 showing a caving expedition gone horribly wrong when a group of friends is separated and savagely killed by the inhabitant creatures. Back to the article is a paragraph on something called the split attention effect where increases in the cognitive load to the visual channel by sharing attentional resources between various sources of visual information “( Eric Jamet 590). Were I actively learning about caving from this movie it would be severely impeded by my glancing up to my television only during the various screaming attacks and obviously my focus on the article changes constantly: hiding from creatures to “advocates of cognitive load theory often refer to the studies reviewed by Penney (1989) and the working memory model proposed by….”. And again, someone else has died horribly. This is not an ideal environment for learning and I am experiencing a cognitive overload, something shared by countless students in a formal classroom setting when their multimedia presentations create a redundancy effect.
How much of our lives involve this split attention effect? Recent studies suggest that people who send and receive text messages while driving have an increased chance of accidents while the average person will probably over-estimate their ability to multitask. And yet there aren’t similar issues with drivers using their GPS devices in their cars so some adaptability seems to be possible. I know I cannot watch a movie and read an intellectually dense article at the same time, and yet I see notes in the margins of the papers and highlighted words. My notes for a five page study contain the words “put keywords on slides to improve transfer”. This does summarize fairly accurately but a fragmented sentence does not convey any subtle nuance or personal insight. The movie though not as important is still fresh in my mind perhaps there was a positive life lesson I missed but it will probably haunt my nightmares for a few days more at least.
“The cognitive theory of multimedia learning is based on the idea that there are separate processing systems for pictorial and verbal information and that learning consists of established links between the verbal and pictorial representations.”(Jamet) This has been studied extensively in the area of sign language linguistics. The language may be entirely visual and yet it uses the language portions of the brain. When signers have strokes and are tested in various visual-spatial and linguistic tasks it becomes evident that the language reception (verbal) and ability remains intact while the spatial abilities (pictoral) do not (and vice-versa); depending on the damage.
“Meaningful learning is a deep understanding of the material and presupposes the active processing of the document. It is revealed in the ability to apply what has been learned to new situations, in particular within the framework of knowledge transfer problems. It requires the construction of a mental model of the document on the basis of three processes: selection of important elements in the presented material, the organization of these elements within a coherent structure and their integration into existing knowledge. “(Jamet).
There are several channels available when instructing using multimedia and students vary in their learning. When presenting using spoken words only you give no other option and can only hope that a majority of the class will benefit from this method. Narrated animation using pictures and spoken words give the learner two paths and can accommodate even more students who now have the ability to choose. Yet some students need additional options and the printed narration would be more beneficial. My younger brother prefers to watch television with the closed captioning on at all times even though he has no hearing loss. For him it seems to be a reinforcement of the spoken words which somehow supports comprehension and a dominance of the remote control. Or at least that is my professional opinion of the situation. This is called the learning preferences hypothesis: students learn in different ways and the more formats available, the more students will learn.
Giving them all available options should increase the amount of information they can process. It would not be possible to tailor instruction to every combination of channel input and so using text, animation and narration in theory could improve all learners. They do better when allowed input into their method of instruction and may have some channel blockage itself due to physical or mental impairment. Yet when instruction is presented covering all possible channels the students actually learn less. Much like watching a horror movie and reading an article, this can increase the cognitive load to the visual channel and decrease the amount of processing possible (book).
According to the information-delivery theory of multimedia learning, learning “occurs when information is presented by the instructor and received by the student”. The reception will be better when more delivery paths are used. But the capacity-limitation hypothesis states that “people have a limited capacity to process visually presented material and limited capacity to process auditorily presented material.” (book). When students view a multimedia presentation that is both narrated and subtitled it impairs their ability to “attend to relevant portions of the incoming visual and auditory information and organize the material into coherent verbal and pictorial representations and integrate the two representations.
This creates a redundancy effect in that overloading the visual channel by having animation, narration and text will decrease the retention and understanding of material. No matter how fastidiously I take notes on caving, I will never learn enough of it to implement anything from watching the movie. The emotional distraction is just too intense to overcome.
There is a capacity limitation on the cognitive theory of multimedia learning which conflicts with the learning preference hypothesis. Students learn better when they have more options and the ability to choose their input channel. But having too many options is an impediment that cannot be overcome. It seems as if at this point in the learning that every student is a small child being asked what flavor of ice cream they want for the last ice cream cone they will ever have and is impossible decide. Even though the theories seem to conflict it is important to remember that the theory of multimedia learning applies to narrated animation and has no opportunity for cognitive overload. With subtitled narration though it would seem to still cause problems with a split attention effect. You can create positive results by adding only keywords to the animation making the information successive rather than merely redundant. The extraneous filler that can come with narration should be reduced to as little as possible and can support the multimedia immensely.
When doing class presentations I find myself unable to read directly from the power point slides. This is due to feeling uncomfortable reading aloud in front of the class when really I am trying to engage them. Instead I prefer to create extensive slides with either pictures or text but rarely both per slide. Then with only a sentence or idea written down beforehand I can discuss the material with the class in more of a conversational format yet being infinitely more knowledgeable about the subject matter thus feeding into my superiority complex.
I suggest a new study. Place subjects in a life or death situation and the information to survive to will presented via multimedia. Group A will have animation, narration and subtitles and Group B will only have animation and narration. With this newfound motivation we can really see how much of a hindrance redundancy can be. The survivors will be tallied and interviewed as to how much the multimedia they remember and the victims will be buried.