Implications for the Design of Educational Media

Apart from the contribution that this research makes to our understanding of children’s learning from media, the data also hold practical implications for the design of future educational media projects. Perhaps the broadest moral for future multiple-media projects is that there are benefits to cross-platform learning, but “more media” may not always be better. Further research is needed to determine whether there may be an optimal level of educational media use—and, if so, what that level might be. In the meantime, the data also suggest ways in which media can be designed to maximize their educational power:

  • Explanation and scaffolding: One reason that effects were often driven by the Cyberchase TV series may be that it presented explanations of the relevant mathematical concepts, and it used characters and narrative to model successful problem-solving. If so, this situation argues for the need for educational media (in any medium) to provide, not only opportunities for children to exercise their emerging skills, but also explanatory support and scaffolding when needed.
  • Narrative: Researchers such as Schank and Abelson (1995) have theorized that narrative can serve as a powerful means for conveying information, and for organizing and storing information in memory. This view is consistent with our finding that effects were often strongest among children who viewed the Cyberchase television series, and that many children explicitly referred to Cyberchase stories and characters as they worked on problems. This is not to say, of course, that non-narrative formats (e.g., games, live demonstrations) cannot also convey educational content effectively. However, our findings are a useful reminder of the power of narrative as an educational tool—even in subjects not typically associated with stories, such as mathematics.
  • Complementary media: Conveying the same educational content in several different media opens opportunities for children to build connections among the concepts presented in these media. In Cyberchase, television supplies explanations of content and models of successful problem-solving, whereas interactive and hands-on media provide opportunities for children to exercise these skills themselves. The use of a common world and characters can encourage children to connect content from one medium to another. The appeal of children’s experience in one medium also can enhance their motivation to engage with other educational media that employ the same characters.
  • Convergent media: These points suggest intriguing possibilities for convergent media, in which the narrative and explanatory power of video, the participatory strength of interactive games, and the in-person support provided via hands-on media can be combined in a single experience. For example, consider an interactive game in which the “hint” button pulls up an explanatory video clip, or imagine a video with an embedded interactive game that allows the viewer to use mathematics to help the protagonist achieve her goal in the video.

In these ways, we can build on the lessons learned from past and current research, both to stimulate future research and—even more important—to build projects that will take even better advantage of the power of educational media to help children learn.

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