Media Comparison Research

Media Comparison Research

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Media Comparison Research

There have been considerable debate on research of media comparison as it relates to education over the past few years. According to Richard Clark, there has been a "paradigm shift" that occurred in instructional media research during the past decade from a behavioral to a more cognitive approach. (Anglin 348).

Clark felt that there was "consistent evidence found that there are no learning benefits to be gained from employing any specific medium to deliver instruction. Research showing performance on time saving gains from one or another medium is shown to be vulnerable to compelling rival hypothesis concerning the uncontrolled effects of instructional method and novelty. (Clark 445)

Media Defined:

Media refers to a class of instructional resources and representing all aspects of the mediation of instruction through the agency of reproducible events. It includes the materials themselves, the instruments used to deliver the materials to learners and the techniques or methods employed. (Allen 1)

Media can be defined by its technology, symbol systems and processing capabilities. The most obvious characteristics of a medium are its technology: the mechanical and electronic aspects that determine its function and, to some extent, its shape and other physical features. (Kozma 180)

Basics of Media Research

There are three major objectives of media research: (1) obtain knowledge about the educational or instructional effectiveness of a chosen medium; (2) increase understanding of how media and technology function and what psychological effects they have on a learner; (3) improve the practice of education through the provision and evaluation of better materials, media, procedures and technologies (Salomon, Clark 1-2).

Schramm, as cited by Salomon, stated that while all media can teach very effectively, "learning seem to be affected more by what is delivered than by the delivery system." (Schramm, 1977) (Salomon 1). This has become the basis of disagreement among experts.


Clark’s article argued that most current summaries and meta-analyses of media comparison studies clearly suggest that media do not influence learning under any conditions. In El Salvador (Schramm, 1977), it was not the medium that caused a change in achievement, but rather a curricular reform that accompanied the change. 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.

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Related Searches

The choice of vehicle might influence the cost or extent of distributing instruction, but only the content of the vehicle can influence achievement. (Clark 445).

However, Allen felt that although "the broad and undifferentiated research in which one type of media is compared to another may be subject to criticism, it was a legitimate category for research. The criticism stems from the comparison of one type of medium with another wherein there is a lack of specificity between the alternative modes of instructional presentation. However there would appear to be justification for comparison of different media wherein all factors other than the unique specific media characteristics are controlled. (Allen 2-3)

Yet, Lumsdaine 1963 and Mielke 1968 argued that gross media comparison and selection studies might not pay off. They implied that media, when viewed as collections of mechanical instruments such as television and computers were sample deliveries devices. (Clark 446)

In addition, Levie and Dickie 1973 noted that most media comparison studies to that date had been fruitless and suggested that learning objectives can be attained through instruction presented by any of a variety of different media. P. 859 (Clark 446)

Media comparison studies, regardless of the media employed, tend to result in "no significant difference" conclusions (Mielke, 1968). These findings were incorrectly offered as evidence that different media were "equally effective" as conventional means in promoting learning. No significant difference results simply suggest that changes in the outcome scores (e.g. learning) did not result from any systematic differences in the treatments compared.

The most common source of confounding in media research seem to be the uncontrolled effects of (a) instructional method or content differences between treatments that are compared, and (b) a novelty effect for new media, which tend to disappear over time. (Clark 448)

Clark stated that it is the uncontrolled effects of novelty and instructional method, which account for the existing evidence for the effects of various media on learning gains. Each new medium seems to attract its own set of advocates who make claims for improved learning and stimulate research questions which are similar to these asked by the previously popular medium. (Clark 447)

An article by Robert Kozma responded to Clark’s challenge (1983) for "…researchers (to) refrain from producing additional studies exploring the relationship between media and learning unless a novel theory is suggested" (Kozma 457).

This article described learning with media as a complementary process within which representations are constructed and procedures performed, sometimes by the learner and sometimes by the medium (Kozma 179). It purports that the learner actively collaborates with the medium to construct knowledge. Furthermore, learning is viewed as an active, constructive process whereby the learner strategically manages the available cognitive resources to create new knowledge by extracting information from the environment and integrating it with information stored in memory. (Kozma 180)

A medium can be described and perhaps distinguished from other media by its capabilities to employ certain symbol systems. Symbol systems are modes of appearance (Goodman 1976) or sets of elements (i.e. words, pictures) that are interrelated within each system by syntax and are used in "specifiable" ways in relation to fields of reference. Thus television can be thought of as a medium that is capable of employing representational (i.e. pictorial) and audio-linguistic symbol systems (among others). Such characterizations can also be used to specify a certain overlap or equivalence of media. (Kozma 181)

Salomon (1974, 1979) suggest that these characteristics should be used to define,distinguish, and analyze media because they are relevant to the way learners represent and process information from a medium. However, symbol systems alone are not sufficient to describe a medium and it’s cognitive effect. (Kozma 181)

Clark acknowledged that studying the attributes of media and their influence on the way that information is processed in learning is a viable option to media comparison research. (Clark 1975, Levie and Dickie 1973, Salomon 1974, 1979). These attributes were thought to cultivate cognitive skills when modeled by learners. Some examples include "zooming" into stimulus details and animated modeling of moves. (Clark 451)It should be noted that different media could present a given attribute so there is no correspondence between attribute so there is no correspondence between attributes and media.

Final Thoughts

Clark advised that after five decades of research, media comparison studies showed no learning benefits and further research should be discontinued. (Clark 450) Yet there is still disagreement among experts as to the impact, whether direct or indirect. Eight years later, Kozma rebutted. He feels that the medium and method have a more integral relationship, both is part of the design. (Kozma 205) Kozma feels that his article provides a rationale for additional research. It is eight years since Kozma’s article and it would be interesting to see the direction this issue will now take.


Allen, William H. (1970, Sept.) Categories of Instructional Media Research. Viewpoints: Bulletin of the School of Education, Indiana University Vol. 46 No. 5. Pg. 1-15.

Anglin, Gary (1995). Instructional Technology: Past, Present, Future. Englewood, Colorado. Libraries Unlimited, Inc. Page 348.

Clark, Richard E. (Winter 1983) Reconsidering Research on Learning from Media, Review of Educational Research. Vol. 53, No. 4. Pg. 445-459

Kozma, Robert B. (Summer 1991) Learning With Media. Review of Educational Research. Vol. 61, No. 2, pp. 179-211

Salomon, Gavriel (1978, March) The "Language" of Media and the Cultivation of Media Skills. Paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Toronto Canada.)

Salomon, Gavriel; Clark, Richard E. (1974, Dec.) Re-Examining the Methodology of Research on Media and Technology in Education. (Stanford University California. ERIC Clearinghouse on Information Resources.
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