By Katrina Fraser and Alexandra Samur
Emerging in the 80s and 90s, clearly a very different era of computer and internet technologies than today, the “Great Media Debate” between Richard Clark (1994) and Robert Kozma (1994) traded arguments on whether or not media enhance learning. The debate is important to revisit for instructional designers, focused on the creation of learning experiences and materials—how technologies can advance learning is at the core of our profession.
The posts below explore Clark and Kozma’s positions and imagines their responses to contemporary technological advances written about in mainstream media.
Adobe Fosters Creative Digital Literacy for Students in All Majors By Chris Hayhurst, Feb 12, 2020
“Adobe Fosters Creative Digital Literacy for Students” in All Majors (Hayhurst, 2020) is a promotional article to support the adoption of Adobe Creative Cloud into widespread use across university and college campuses.
Biology Major Vincent Fu, who minors in Computer Science and Chemistry, found his skills in Adobe Creative Cloud to be essential in his position at a medical device firm. He was able to “communicat[e] complicated content and research data in a visually consistent way” (Hayhurst, 2020, para 3).
This focus on creative digital literacy is expected in most fields, which has led to universities examining their curricula, and their graduates’ preparedness for it. Creative Cloud in particular has three key features ideally suited to higher ed. The creativity-productivity platform helps users, no matter their academic discipline, to solve problems, develop critical thinking and share knowledge. Also, being cloud-based, it works on all devices no matter the user’s level. Lastly, it is the industry standard, far superior to hacking together pieces from free software.
Students use the software on campus, and take that knowledge to employers who use it as well. What used to be a kind of technological magic have become commonplace tools to leverage on a student’s resume (Hayhurst, 2020).
How Would Clark and Kozma Respond
Clark would have a difficult time arguing against leveraging of software skills into the job market. Of course, that is not his purpose nor likely an effective use of his time. Clark’s (1994) view is essentially that technology is not teaching anything.
It would, however, be very interesting to hear his perspective when the technology itself is the learning, and mastery of its use is the learning goal. Clark’s position is that effective learning comes from the quality of instruction, and that quality of instruction could be equally delivered through a wide variety of media formats (Clark, 1994). The media itself does not act as the instruction; it carries the instruction to the learner.
However, it is unclear to me how one would attempt to instruct in the use of a technology tool without using that tool. By that I mean, if we are to apply the argument that Clark (1994) employs, that the technology essentially delivers the instruction, and that instruction could be effectively delivered through various media, then that would follow that the learning of Adobe Creative Cloud could be effectively instructed using various media, and not necessarily the Cloud tools themselves. This would mean that a collection of print-, video-, and/or other media-based instruction would be just as effective at teaching a learner how to use Creative Cloud as would using the tech itself.
I find this pretty hard to believe. At the very least, if efficiency were of the utmost importance, as Clark (1994) claims it should be, there seems to be a real efficiency problem with using any other media of instruction versus the technology itself. It does not make sense to work outside of that particular medium when instructing that medium.
This supports Kozma’s (1994) supposition, that a medium itself provides a richness of capability that cannot be otherwise duplicated. The salience and experiential capacity of the media provide attributes that themselves combine into causal elements that generate effective learning.
Of course, efficiency being paramount, it is unlikely that Clark would advocate for the use of print-based instruction over using the Creative Cloud technology itself, but the point is that his viewpoint suggests it is possible to do so. Kozma (1994), on the other hand, would likely argue that the value of learning the Creative Cloud tools is reflected in developing capacity in these tools, and the associated socio-experiential learning that would be gained therein.
Making Virtual Learning Real by Miang Chiang (August 27, 2021)
The Forbes article “Making Virtual Learning Real” (Chiang, 2021) highlights how new technologies—virtual labs and educational digital twins—enhance online learning and spur innovation (2021).
Virtual labs for engineering students, who typically have to spend a significant amount of time in labs, is one innovation that can provide huge cost-savings. The virtual labs, replaces the need for facilities or equipment by providing simulated experiences of being in a bricks and mortar lab including random lab results (Chiang, 2021).
Similarly, experiential learning through the use of educational digital twins have allowed students to explore virtual versions of items such as car or human body parts when the physical objects are not available (Chiang, 2021).
During COVID these innovations provided Purdue students the opportunity for hands-on learning when working in-person was not possible (Chiang, 2021).
Clark and Kozma: Virtual vs. in-person learning
For Clark (1994), there was no direct link between the use of media and learning. Instead it is instructional methods that influence learning, and not its delivery. So, if he were alive to contend with COVID, he would likely whole-heartedly embrace virtual environments for teaching and argue that really, it doesn’t matter how students receive instruction but the method and content that matter. Students will and do learn from high-quality instruction whether it’s delivered in-person or online. However, the amount or quality of what they learn is not directly impacted by media.
Further, regardless of a pandemic, Clark (1994) would likely recommend the use of virtual labs over physical facilities in order to cut costs of delivering instruction, assuming that instructional methods stay the same.
In contrast, Kozma (1994), steadfast in his rebuttal, would argue that it’s an oversight not to recognize the potential that virtual labs would have in enhancing student learning. By learning in a simulated environment, students will have the opportunity to make more mistakes, try more experiments and therefore be exposed to more potential results than they would in a physical lab.
The same goes for working with educational digital twins. Being able to see machine processes on a computer or break the parts of a car and then rebuild them with the aid of a digital version can only expand a student’s horizons. By contrast, working in a physical lab, if you were, say, dissecting a real life body part, you aren’t likely going to have multiple parts to take apart and learn from that hands-on experience in the same way.
For, Kozma (1994) media attributes and the learning process are not separate but complementary. Given the unprecedented development in technology since these debates took place, it’s hard to imagine Clark would not also acknowledge the media attributes that realize instructional methods through new innovations and applications for technologies.
Chiang, M. (2021, August 27). Making virtual learning real. Forbes.com. Retrieved Sept. 21, 2021 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/mungchiang/2021/08/27/making-virtual-learning-real/?sh=2113d5031563
Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21-29.
Hayhurst, C. (2020, Feb 12). Adobe Fosters Creative Digital Literacy for Students in All Majors. EdTech. Retrieved Sept. 22, 2021 from https://edtechmagazine.com/higher/higher/higher/k12/k12/article/2020/02/adobe-fosters-creative-digital-literacy-students-all-majors
Kozma, R. B. (1994). Will media influence learning: Reframing the debate. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 7-19.