This post is the first in a new series highlighting research findings on effective instructional techniques.
We noticed in our recent faculty survey that there were a significant number of faculty who are skeptical about the role of technology to facilitate learning. In addition, we know that there are even more faculty who want empirical evidence to support their choices in teaching techniques. Hence, this series.
Today’s topic is whether the use of illustrations improves learning. Research shows that students who learned from animation + narration or from text + graphics learned better than those who were taught using narration or text exclusively. See, e.g., Mayer R.E. & Gallini, J.K, When is an illustration worth ten thousand words? Journal of Educational Psychology Vol 82(4), Dec, 1990. pp. 715-726.
Not just any illustration will do, of course. As a rule, the most effective illustrations are those that clearly illustrate relationships (organizational or relational graphics) or processes (transformational or interpretive graphics). Illustrations that are merely decorative can be more of a distraction than a learning tool.
A constructivist approach, where students create their own illustrations, can be even more effective, according to a 1997 study published in the same journal. So, consider adding illustrations to your ECLearn course site or having students create their own and share them using ECLearn’s “pages.”
For a helpful overview of this and other evidence-based teaching techniques, see Mayer R. Applying the science of learning: Evidence-based principles for the design of multimedia instruction. American Psychologist. November 2008;63(8):760-769. Or for a more in-depth view, come down to Admin 130 and borrow our book, Clark and Mayer’s, E-Learning and the Science of Instruction, 3d ed. (2011).