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Hello to all of our readers -- we've had quite an increase of subscribers lately and appreciate all of the referrals and shares!

This week, we're focusing on the following questions:

  • Do graphics enhance online learning?
  • Should software simulations have written instructions?
  • How can platform administrators increase adoption of social learning tools?

Do Graphics Enhance Online Learning?

Do people learn better from words and graphics, instead of just words alone? If you look at the large body of work from Richard E. Mayer, creator of the cognitive theory of multimedia learning, the answer is mostly yes -- relational, organizational, transformational, and interpretive graphics can enhance learning, especially for novices.

While there’s ample historical evidence to support Mayer’s theory, researchers are applying modern technology to dig deeper into the words vs. words-and-pictures debate. In one 2020 study, researchers used eye-tracking devices to determine if learners paid attention to the images in an eLearning course and if that attention impacted learner performance, satisfaction, and mental effort.

Their findings indicate that the graphics used in the course were not effective at positively impacting learners’ performance in a course; in fact, learners barely paid any attention to them at all. Researchers suggest that this finding was due to the fact that the graphics were merely representational (in this case, a simple map); the images used were not related to instructional goals or assessment questions, and the graphics weren’t referenced in the text.

Key Takeaway: Don’t bother with decorative or representational graphics in online learning; sure, they look pretty, but if they’re not essential to the lesson at hand, then they’re reducing learners’ already limited cognitive processing.

Read More (open): Zhu, J., Dawson, K., Ritzhaupt, A.D., & Antonenko, P. (2020). Investigating how multimedia and modality design principles influence student learning performance, satisfaction, mental effort, and visual attention. _Journal of Educational Multimedia & Hypermedia, 29(_3), 265-284.

Software Simulations & the Reverse Modality Effect

We know from research on the modality effect that if you’re displaying an animation in an online course, it’s best to use a voiceover, not written text, to explain it to the learner. But what about in computer or software simulations, where learners can manipulate variables in the simulation at their own pace? Should those include audio instructions (supported by the modality effect) or written instructions (the reverse modality effect)?

Researchers tackled this question and found that participants who were given a simulation with learning guidance in written text performed significantly better than participants who were provided with the learning guidance presented in spoken text. Why? Researchers propose that learners need more time to repeatedly read the simulation procedures and inspect the value of the parameter for correct manipulation.

Key Takeaway: When designing animations showing a learner something, like a procedure, use a voiceover to explain what’s happening; when designing software simulations, include the content as text, not audio.

Read More ($): Liu, T.‐C., Lin, Y.‐C., Hsu, C.‐Y., Hsu, C.‐Y. and Paas, F. (2021). Learning from animations and computer simulations: Modality and reverse modality effects. British Journal of Educational Technology, 52(1), 304-317.

Increasing Adoption of Social Learning Tools

This article summary is brought to you by Kelley, LSW’s new research assistant. Learning management systems (LMS) that integrate social engagement tools (similar to Facebook and Twitter) are gaining in popularity, but not much has been known about the factors leading to learners’ adoption of these platforms. In a 2020 study using the Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT) model, researchers found that the intrinsic value, or the enjoyment found in using the tool, was the most influential factor in determining a learner’s intention to use an LMS with integrated social learning tools.

Key Takeaway: When selecting an LMS with integrated social tools, decision makers should consider not just the LMS’s functionalities, but also how enjoyable and engaging the system is to use. Platform administrators should also provide learners with support, like user manuals, online FAQs, discussion forums, and training modules to encourage the adoption of a social learning system.

Read More ($): Khechine, H., Raymond, B. & Augier, M. (2020). The adoption of a social learning system: Intrinsic value in the UTAUT model. British Journal of Educational Technology, 51(6), 2306-2325.

LSW Podcast: Episode 6 Now Available

In this week's episode, Julia chatted with Tom McDowall, Chief Learning Geek at Evolve Learning Design, about lifelong learning, learning science principles, and how the science of learning can enhance instructional design practices. Check it out on our site!

Pets of Learning Science Weekly

This week we’re featuring Buddy, the longtime companion of reader Mary C. Buddy may be 13 years old but he’s still young at heart! Thanks for sharing, Mary!

The LSW Crew

Learning Science Weekly is written and edited by Julia Huprich, Ph.D. Our head of growth and community is Julieta Cygiel.

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