Printer Friendly

Multimedia learning environments for early readers.


The study examines various practices in using computer-based multimedia in reading instruction. Forty-two second grade students, selected from a rural Midwestern elementary school, were randomly assigned to three groups: traditional, structured multimedia learning and unstructured multimedia learning. The results showed that the structured multimedia learning group is significantly more effective than both the traditional and unstructured multimedia learning groups.


National educational assessments indicate that young people are struggling through school without having mastered the most essential and basic skills in reading. The 2000 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) reported that over 85 percent of all fourth-graders in high-poverty schools scored below the proficient reading level (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). Numerous approaches have attempted to improve students' achievement in reading (Eldredge & Butterfield, 1986; Joseph, 2002; Krashen, 2002; Smith, 1971). In the last two decades, particularly the last ten years, educators have tried to use modern learning technologies in their classrooms to improve students' reading. Richie and Aten studied the multimedia effects of audio and visual on reading and found that reading competency is dependent on both auditory as well as visual processing (Robinson, 1985). Studies have shown that learning technologies, such as multimedia, can enhance cognitive learning and make students better learners (Baker, 2001; Mayer & Anderson, 1991; Mousavi, Low, & Sweller, 1995; Moreno & Mayer, 1999). These studies revealed that learners with different learning modalities actually learn better with multimedia due to the multiple learning cues (i.e., audio and visual). According to Moreno and Mayer, multiple learning cues can accelerate information processing and lead to better learning results.

The notion that multimedia can improve learning is challenged by Richard Clark's (1983) theory contending that media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction, and it is the instructional design, curriculum, and pedagogy that influence achievement. He cautions about interpreting the effects of media attributes, such as zoom and animation effects, on learning. Clark (1983, 1994) concludes that such effects are incidental and therefore, not generalizable to educational settings in terms of achievement on student learning. The above differing views of multimedia use have influenced teaching practices in the K-12 schools. Zheng and Wilmes (2001) found that there are three types of learning environments regarding multimedia use in K-12 schools. They are (a) traditional, Co) structured multimedia learning, and (c) unstructured multimedia learning. In the traditional environment, teachers believe in direct with basal readers, focusing on phonics and basics. In the structured multimedia learning environment, teachers blend traditional approach with multimedia techniques to teach reading. In the unstructured multimedia learning environment, teachers adopt a more lassie faire approach by letting the students roam through the multimedia learning materials without providing much guidance.

Studies of multimedia use in K-12 reading have focused on traditional and computer-based approaches, as well as structured and unstructured multimedia approaches. Labbo and Reinking (2000) conducted a case study on the differing roles of conventional print and multimedia CD-ROMs regarding reading achievement in kindergarten. The authors concluded that multimedia CD-ROMs provided more distinctive pathways for supporting young children's literacy development than did the conventional print. Van Daal and Reitsma (2000) compared kindergarten children's reading achievement in a traditional and multimedia environment. Results indicated that children in the multimedia environment outperformed the children in the traditional learning environment in word recognition and decoding skills. Underwood (2000) studied two different groups of 8th grade students, structured sub-skills tutoring (i.e., using an integrated learning system) and unstructured learning (i.e., free reading using a talking book), in a computer-based learning environment. Results showed significant differences between the two groups, with the structured learning group outperforming the unstructured learning group. Labbo and Kuhn (2000) investigated the learning behavior of kindergartners (n = 25) by providing the learners with two different kinds of multimedia CD-ROM storybooks, one with cognitive support (structured learning) and the other without cognitive support (unstructured learning). The cognitively supportive multimedia CD-ROM storybook was defined as audience appropriateness (i.e., the words and concepts are understood by the audience), structure-content relevancy (i.e., the discourse structure is suited for the content), and coherence (i.e., the arrangement of ideas make clear the relationship among the ideas). The authors' findings indicated that children who learned with cognitively supportive multimedia CD-ROM storybook showed better learning in terms of comprehension and meaning-making.

The above studies focused separately on either traditional print versus computer-based learning (Labbo & Reinking, 2000; Van Daal & Reitsma, 2000), or structured versus unstructured approaches (Labbo & Kuhn, 2000; Underwood, 2000). A more holistic approach can provide better understanding towards the dynamics between various reading instructional methods. The purpose of this study is to investigate the impacts of three different kinds of learning, that is, traditional, structured multimedia and unstructured multimedia learning on students' achievement in reading skills and comprehension.


Participants and Setting

The sample of this study consisted of 42 elementary students from two second grade classrooms in a rural Midwestern elementary school in the United States. Of the 42 students, 20 were female and 22 were male. Approximately 83% (n=35) of the students were Caucasian, 5% (n = 5) African American, 7% (n = 3) Asian American, and 5% (n = 2) Hispanic. Each of the two second grade teachers was a female Caucasian who had more than l0 years of teaching experience. Each classroom had two student teachers. There were five reading instruction sessions per week. Each session lasted 55 minutes. A mobile computer cart with 14 wireless laptops was available for checkout by the teacher from the media center. Prior to the study, students were exposed to wireless laptop technology through a federal funded PT3 grant that supported technology integration in schools. Teachers were also trained in using various educational software, such as Kidspiration and multimedia storybook CD-ROMs.


An evaluation team consisting of two college professors and one third grade elementary teacher was established to select one basal reader text with a companion CD-ROM. The five basal reader texts reviewed were based on age appropriateness, the content, and the level of vocabulary using Fry's readability graph (Tonjes & Zintz, 1992). One basal reader text with a companion multimedia CD-ROM, which included audio and visual effects of the text, was selected for the 42 students.

Sampling Procedure

Using a convenience sampling method, participants were randomly assigned to three groups, traditional, structured multimedia learning and unstructured multimedia learning for a two-week period. Students were equally divided into these three learning groups within the two classes. The teacher and student teachers in each classroom facilitated the three learning groups. In the traditional learning group, students were taught within a direct instructional environment that had a strong emphasis on phonics. The instruction focused on level questioning and patterns and drills practices, such as sound-letter decoding. In the structured multimedia learning group, students used the selected basal reader text and companion multimedia CD-ROM. The instruction consisted of structured steps using: (a) a study guide, (b) an advanced organizer for content, and (c) collaborative learning activities. The study guide, developed by the student teacher, provided students a list of key points, questions and worksheets to be used with the CD-ROM. The advanced organizer (created by the student teacher with Kidspiration 6.0) helped the students understand the content both in the text and in the CD-ROM. The collaborative learning activities enabled the students to work collaboratively on the basic skills, such as letter-sound relationship by clicking multiple links. The unstructured multimedia learning group students were allowed to use the laptop computers to learn the content without formal instructional support.

Testing Procedures

Two assessments were conducted by the classroom teachers immediately following the end of the two-week instructional period. These were a reading miscue chart test and a comprehension test.

Reading miscue chart A reading miscue chart was developed by the second grade teachers based on Flynt-Cooter Reading Inventory (Reutzel & Cooter, 1999). The miscue chart detected five error types in reading: mispronunciation, substitute, insertions, omissions, and teacher assistance. If an error was made by the reader in any of these five areas, a point would be deducted from the total score. The total score equaled 145 points.

Reading comprehension A reading comprehension test developed by the second grade teachers consisted of 25 questions. Of these questions, 13 were lower level questions that focused on factual knowledge and 12 questions tapped students' higher level thinking skills relating to causal relationships.


Descriptive statistics for reading skills and comprehension for each group were conducted. The means and standard deviations among the three groups for reading skills were: traditional (M = 108.07, SD = 8.334), structured multimedia learning (M = 123.71, SD = 11.276), and unstructured multimedia learning (M =104.29, SD = 7.660). The means and standard deviations among the three groups for reading comprehension were: traditional (M = 15.43, SD = 2.174), structured multimedia learning (M = 20, SD = 1.961), and unstructured multimedia learning (M = 13.79, SD = 2.190).

A MANOVA showed that there was a significant difference among the traditional, structured multimedia learning, and unstructured multimedia learning groups (Wilks' Lambda = 15.993, p < 0.001). A follow up ANOVA for reading skills indicated that there was a significant difference among the groups, F(2,39) = 17.453, p < 0.001 with the dependent variable indicating a moderate effect (Effect size = 0.472). The ANOVA for reading comprehension among the groups showed a significant difference, F(2,39) = 32.577, p < 0.001) with the dependent variable indicating a moderate effect (Effect size = 0.626). A Tukey HSD post-hoc test (p < 0.001) for both reading skills and comprehension indicated a statistically significant difference between traditional and structured multimedia learning, and between structured multimedia learning and unstructured multimedia learning. The structured multimedia group showed higher reading skills and comprehension than the traditional and unstructured groups. No significant differences were found between traditional and unstructured multimedia learning for reading skills and comprehension.

Discussion and Conclusion

This study shows that structured multimedia learning approach is instructionally more effective than the traditional and unstructured learning approaches for both reading skills and comprehension. These findings seem to indicate that the traditional and unstructured approaches may not be optimal learning techniques to improve students' reading. A structured multimedia learning approach may provide the necessary cognitive scaffolds that enable students to better control their learning process, develop effective reading strategies, and become better readers. This is in agreement with the findings of Masterman and Rogers (2002), which reveal that the cognitive framework can significantly influence student learning in an interactive multimedia learning environment. Our findings further suggest that a structured multimedia learning approach can better guide students to a higher level of cognitive learning, that is, analyzing and synthesizing data rather than just memorizing information. The results of this study seem to support the view that multiple learning cues, nonlinear, and interactive nature of multimedia enhance student's cognitive learning (Mayer and Anderson, 1991).

As with all research, the extent to which this study's findings are applicable to other settings and other circumstances is an empirical question that can best be determined through additional research. It is suggested that future studies should include a larger, more diverse population in terms of ethnicity, age, social and economic status to address the various conditions within elementary schools across the nation.


Baker, E.A. (2001). The nature of literacy in a technology-rich, forth-grade classroom. Reading Research and Instruction, 40, 159-184.

Clark, R. (1983). Reconsidering research on learning from media. Review of Educational Research. 53(4), 445-59.

Clark, R. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology, Research and Development. 42(2), 21-29.

Eldradge, J. L., & Butterfield, D. (1986). Alternatives to traditional reading instruction. Reading Teacher. 40(1), 32-37.

Joseph, L.M. (2002). Helping children link sound to pring: Phonics procedures for small-group or whole-class settings. Intervention in School and Clinic. 37(4), 217-21.

Krashen, S. (2002). Defending whole language: The limits of phonics instruction and the efficacy of whole language instruction. Reading Improvement. 39(1), 32-42.

Labbo, L.D, & Kuhn, M.R. (2000). Weaving chains of affect and cognition: A young child's understanding of CD-ROM talking books. Journal of Literacy Research, 32(2), 187-210.

Labbo, L.D., Reinking, D. (2000). Once upon an electronic story time. The New Advocate, 13(1), 25-32.

Masterman, E., & Rogers, Y. (2002). A framework for designing interactive multimedia to scaffold young children's understanding of historical chronology. Instructional Science, 30(3), 221-41.

Mayer, R.E., & Anderson, R.B. (1991). Animations need narrations: An experimental test of a dual-dual coding hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83, 484-490.

Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. (1999). Cognitive principles of multimedia learning: The role of modality and contiguity. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 358-368.

Mousavi, S., Low, R., & Sweller, J. (1995). Reducing cognitive load by mixing auditory and visual presentation modes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 87, 319-334.

Reutzel, D. R., & Cooter, R.B. (1999). Balanced reading strategies and practices. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Robinson, K. (1985). Visual and auditory modalities and reading recall: A review of the research. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED272840).

Smith, N. B. (1971). The quest for increased reading competency. Paper presented at the meeting of the International Reading Association, Atlantic City, NJ.

Tonjes, M.J., & Zintz, M.V. (1992). Teaching reading, thinking, study skills in content classrooms. (3rd ed.). Dubuque, IA.: Wm C. Brown.

Underwood, J. (2000). A comparison of two types of computer support for reading development. Journal of Research in Reading. 23(2), 136-48. U.S. Department of Education (2002). Paige focuses on reading during no child left behind tour across America. Retrieved May 30, 2003, from 070902b.html

Van Daal, V.H.P., & Reitsma, P. (2000). Computer-assisted learning to read and spell: Results from two pilot studies. Journal of Research in Reading, 23(2), 181-193.

Zheng, R., & Wilmes, B. (2001). Developing Technology Integrated Reading Strategies to Meet the Digital Learning Needs of Future Students. Paper presented at Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) International 200l, Atlanta, GA.

Robert Zheng, Temple University, PA

Claudia Smarkola, Temple University, PA

Zheng is an assistant professor in the Instructional and Learning Technology (ILT) program. His teaching-research agenda includes multimedia and reading strategies, assessment. Smarkola is a Ph.D. candidate in Educational Psychology.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Rapid Intellect Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Smarkola, Claudia
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 2003
Previous Article:Getting started with ICT blended learning.
Next Article:Addressing collegiate adjunct faculty information needs.

Related Articles
Early Childhood Curriculum: Developmental Bases for Learning and Teaching.
A Collaborative Approach for Creating Curriculum and Instructional Materials.
Building a constructivist learning environment using a multimedia design project--a Malaysian experience.
Middle school students as multimedia designers: a project-based learning approach.
An investigation of behaviorist and cognitive approaches to instructional multimedia design.
An integrated model of multimedia learning and motivation.
Teaching computers to tell learning stories: using critical narrative theory to frame design and evaluation strategies for online educational...
Designing a web enhanced multimedia learning environment (WEMLE) for project management.
Data mining technology for the evaluation of learning content interaction.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters