The Gateless Gate

Gate to nowhere - - 849441

In Zen Buddhism there are mental exercises called Koans that encourage practitioners to look at ideas from different angles.  One of the most well-known Koans asks “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” and encourages the student to think beyond logical paradox.  Creating instruction without the use of text of any kind requires the designer to look at the subject and its diverse details from a completely different perspective by peeling away the complacency of the familiar.  It also highlights the separation of the instructional material and the media used to communicate it.

Dr. Richard Clark’s notion that media is no more responsible for learning than the impact that a truck that delivers food to a grocer has on the nutrition of the shoppers (Clark 1983) on the surface seems fanciful and perhaps Luddite given the effort, resources and focus the education community has put on the use of media in the last few decades. Many of his points however are perfectly valid and were brought into great relief by the Koan-like exercise of creating visual-only instructional material.  It is the separation of media from instructional method that is the core of Clark’s argument and he asserts that if properly designed, the same outcomes will result regardless of the media used.   I believe he is correct that the focus should be on designing instruction using learning theory and cognition and not on the media used to communicate that instruction (Clark 1994).  Especially in our present whirlwind of mobile technology that promises to become ever more prevalent and more personalized, it is easy to be swept up in enthusiasm and marketing for the gadget and not pay proper attention to the material being presented.

That being said, pragmatism is called for when optimizing the communication of that material and attention must be paid to presentation.  Kozma details the influence that the choice of media can have on facilitating learning, especially the use of graphics and visuals and thier impact on the comprehension of the user dependent upon the user’s personal expertise (Kozma 1991).  The media isn’t the message, but it is a tool that has an effect on the user and how they engage with it.  There are several different varieties of whisks for specific tasks and all of them will mix, but the context matters in their efficacy.  One can make whipped cream with a roux whisk, but it will certainly take longer and has a better chance of becoming butter instead of crème Chantilly.

Ballon, Spiral and Ball Whisks
Different Tools, Related Functions

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons

The future of media is mobile and personal and I predict it is on the cusp of an era where true personalization will be not only technologically possible but affordable.  Educators will need to design 360 degree learning materials based on cognitive and learning theory that can then be presented in whatever media best facilitates the learning of the end user.  Using a single media is very limiting and not as versatile as multiple media but it does bring the instructional designer to a Beginner’s Mind and allows them to see the essential details of the instructional method behind the presentation.

Clark, R (1983) Reconsidering research on learning from media.  Review of Educational Research, 53, No. 4, 445-459.  DOI: 10.3102/00346543053004445

Clark, R (1994) Media and methods.  Educational Technology Reseach and Development, 42, No. 3, 7-10.  DOI: 10.1007/BF02298090

Kozma, R (1991) Learning with media. Review of Educational Research, 61, No. 2, 179-211.  DOI: 10.3102/00346543061002179


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