Learning from video: Factors influencing learners' preconceptions and invested mental effort

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<ul><li><p>Learning from Video: Factors Influencing Learners" Preconceptions and Invested Mental Effort </p><p>[ ] Katherine S, Cennamo </p><p>Explored in this article are factors that influence learners" preconceptions of televi- sion, the mental effort they invest in process- ing a video-based lesson, and their achievement. It is proposed that learners" preconceptions of the effort required by a medium directly influence the amount of effort they invest in processing a lesson presented through that medium, and that the amount of mental effort learners invest in a mediated lesson influences the quantity and quality of the information they gain from the lesson. Fac- tors that influence learners" preconceptions and mental effort include the characteristics of the media, the characteristics of the task, and the characteristics of the learners. Re- search findings regarding learners" precon- ceptions of television and the mental effort expended in processing a video-based lesson are reviewed. Practical implications and issues for future research that arise from the literature are identified. </p><p>[] The fact that people who frequently watch television are referred to as "couch potatoes" indicates that American society accepts, and even expects, that viewers will adopt a pas- sive stance toward television viewing. Al- though a passive response may be beneficial when an individual watches television for re- laxation, viewers' preconceptions of television as an easy, passive medium may interfere with their learning from the medium, and thus be detrimental to the use of television and vid- eotapes for instruction. </p><p>In a series of studies (Salomon, 1983b; Salomon, 1984; Salomon &amp; Leigh, 1984), Salomon concluded that learners perceive tele- vision as easier than print, report investing less mental effort in learning from television than from print, and learn less from television than from a print-based lesson. He further concluded that learners' preconceptions of television as an easy medium influence the mental effort they expended in processing a television lesson, and that the amount of men- tal effort learners invest in a lesson influences learning achievement (Salomon, 1984). </p><p>Salomon (1983a) defines the construct of "mental effort' as "the number of nonauto- matic elaborations applied to a unit of material" (p. 42). The conscious, purposeful processing that results from increased mental effort is assumed to create greater activation of the learner's mental schemata. According to in- formation processing theory, a schema is an </p><p>ETR&amp;D, Vol. 41, NO. 3, pp. 33-45 ISSN 1042-1629 33 </p></li><li><p>34 Em~, Vol. 4'1, No. 3 </p><p>organized network of knowledge that includes concepts, facts, skills, and action sequences organized in such a way that the individual elements can be stored and retrieved in terms of a more inclusive concept (Gagnd &amp; Glaser, 1987). As new information is received, it cues the retrieval of related prior knowledge stored in the learner's schemata. Through the pro- cess of elaboration, the learner makes con- nections between the new information and information retrieved from prior knowledge (E. Gagnd, 1985). The increased contact with the learner's mental schemata that results from the conscious, non-automatic generation of elaborations, or mental effort, is presumed to facilitate the retention and retrieval of the new material. In contrast to automatic processing, which is fast and effortless, non-automatic pro- cessing is deliberate, conscious, and very much under the control of the individual. Salomon's (1983b, 1984; Salomon &amp; Leigh, 1984) findings of a significantly positive correlation between the amount of mental effort learners reported investing in a lesson and their preconceptions of the medium of presentation suggest that preconceptions of the processing requirements of video may influence the amount of mental effort expended in learning from a video-based lesson. </p><p>Reviewing the literature on learning with media, Kozma (1991) points to gaps in the re- search on learning from television and implies the need for the development of a theoretical model of television learning. As an initial step in the process, a model of the influence of learners' preconceptions on the amount of mental effort invested in learning from tele- vision is presented here (see Figure 1). The </p><p>model illustrates that learners assess a learn- ing situation in terms of the characteristics of the task and the characteristics of the medium. They make a decision as to the ease or diffi- culty of the lesson based on their past experi- ence with similar events. They decide to exert a certain amount of effort in processing the lesson. If characteristics of the lesson differ from those expected based on past experience, the learners reanalyze the situation and make "on-line" modifications to their expenditure of effort. The amount of actual effort invested in the lesson includes cognitive activities such as perceptual processing, searching memory for appropriate schemata, and elaborating on the content. Increases in effort that result from the elaboration process may result in increased contact with the learners' ment~ schemata and facilitate retention and retrieval of the new ma- terial. The theoretical and research bases of these proposed relationships are reviewed in the following sections. The practical implica- tions of the current evidence and a suggested agenda for further research follow. </p><p>PRECONCEPTIONS OF MEDIA </p><p>Researchers who have investigated the nature of learners' preconceptions of video-based ma- terials have questioned them on the perceived ease or difficulty of learning from several forms of media, the amount of effort they usually invest in processing mediated materials, their media preferences, and their perceptions of the potential of various media for facilitating learning. Factors that influence learners' pre- </p><p>FIGURE 1 [ ] Factors that Influence Learners' Preconceptions of Media and the Amount of Mental Effort They Invest </p><p>CHARACTERISTICS OF M E D I A ~ ~ </p><p>CHARACTERiSTiCS OF TASK </p><p>CHARACTERISTICS OF LEARN </p></li><li><p>PRECONCEPTIONS AND MENTAL EFFORT 35 </p><p>conceptions of video-based materials seem to fall into three categories: characteristics of the media, characteristics of the task, and char- acteristics of the learners. </p><p>Characteristics of the Media </p><p>Several researchers have found that students in grades 3-10 perceive television to be sig- nificantly "easier" than print (Krendl, 1986; Salomon, 1983b; Salomon, 1984; Salomon &amp; Leigh, 1984) and than computers and writing (Krendl, 1986). One of the primary differences between television and other media lies in the symbol systems employed. Whereas books, computers, and writing primarily use text and still pictures to convey information, television primarily uses real images and oral language to present the content. It appears that students in grades 3-10 perceive it to be easier to pro- cess the symbol systems presented through television than those employed by text-based media. </p><p>Characteristics of the Learner </p><p>Learners' preconceptions of media may vary with the experiences of the learners. Bordeaux and Lange (1991) asked children in grades 2, 4, and 6 about the effort they usually invest in several types of television programs. The amount of effort children reported investing in children's programs was found to decrease as the age of the viewer increased. It would appear that as children become older and more experienced in viewing children's television programs, they need to invest less effort in processing such programs. Cambre's (1991) research suggests that as learners become more proficient in using a medium, their media pref- erences also may change. Using methodology similar to Krendl's (1986), Cambre (1991) found that teachers preferred reading and watching television to using a computer and writing (Cambre, 1986). However, the younger stu- dents who participated in Krendl's (1986) study preferred watching television and using a com- puter to reading and writing. </p><p>Learners' preconceptions of the ease of learning from television also may vary based on cultural differences in prior experiences with television. Beentjes (1989) administered a questionnaire to Dutch children which re- quired them to rate the ease of learning 10 top- ics from television and books. Although the questionnaire was identical in content to Salomon's (1984), Beentjes failed to replicate Salomon's findings. Whereas Salomon found that American children consistently rated tele- vision as easier than books, Beentjes found that Dutch children's perceptions of the ease of learning from television was dependent on the topic of the program. He proposed that cultural differences in children's prior experi- ence with television may account for the dif- ferences in perceived ease of learning from the medium. The television programs viewed by most American children are in their native lan- guage; however, Beentjes indicated that Dutch children view many foreign television programs from which they understand little until they are able to read the subtitles. Thus, the act of "watching television" may be more difficult for Dutch children than for their American peers. </p><p>Characteristics of the Task </p><p>Characteristics of the task also seem to influ- ence learners' preconceptions of the ease of learning from video-based materials. Kunkel and Kovaric (1983) found that learners have different preconceptions of educational ma- terials than they have of entertainment mate- rials. College students reported that they usually invested significantly more mental ef- fort in processing a television program that was designed for the Public Broadcasting Ser- vice (PBS) than in processing a program that was designed for a commercial television sta- tion. Kunkel and Kovaric (1983) reported that the majority of PBS programs are more seri- ous and educational than commercial televi- sion programs, and the results of this study suggest that students' perceptions of the ef- fort required by the two types of programs may have been influenced by an awareness of this difference. </p></li><li><p>36 ~'R~D, VoL 41, No. 3 </p><p>The content of the television program also may Influence learners' perceptions of the ef- fort required to process the program. Salomon (1983b) questioned college students on the amount of mental effort they generally expend on televised and printed adventure, sports, news, science, and crime stories. He found that, with the exception of the news, the amount of mental effort estimated by students was lower with television than with print. Us- ing Salomon's questionnaire, Beentjes (1989) found that students' ratings of the ease or dif- ficulty of learning from a particular medium was strongly dependent on the topic In ques- tion. For example, the Dutch children per- ceived that it was easier to learn soccer rules from television than from a book, but felt that it was easier to learn to solve math problems from a book than from television. </p><p>Cennamo (1992) investigated learners' pre- conceptions of the ease of achieving various learning outcomes (psychomotor, affective, ver- bal, intellectual) through the media of inter- active video, computers, television, and books. Television was not consistently perceived as the easiest medium; Instead, there was an in- teraction effect between the domain of the learning outcome and the medium of presen- tation. College students perceived it to be eas- ier to learn psychomotor skills and attitudes from television and interactive video than from books and computers; however, they perceived it to be more difficult to learn verbal informa- tion and intellectual skills from television than from interactive video, computers, and books. These findings suggest that learners believe that television facilitates learning certain types of skills, but that it is diffi~lt to learn other skills from the medium. </p><p>Summary </p><p>In general research on learners' preconcep- tions of television and video indicates that ! . . . . e.~ rerceJ~.e tele~ion as an easy medium that requires little mental effort, and that they believe they would learn little from a video- based lesson. However, several characteristics of the task have been shown to influence the </p><p>amount of effort that learners perceive is needed in processing a video-based lesson. Learners report investing more mental effort in attending to educational television programs than in attending to commercial television pro- grams. The domain of the desired learning out- come and the topic of the lesson also seem to Influence learners' preconceptions of the ease of learning from video-based Instruction. In addition, the learners' prior experiences may affect their media preferences, the perceived ease of learning from television, and the amount of effort they report investing in view- ing a television program. </p><p>MENTAL EFFORT </p><p>Researchers have noted that the terms "mental ef fo r t , . . . . attention, .... concentration," "use of cognitive capacity," and "mental workload" all refer to similar concepts and relate to an increase in the cognitive resources devoted to processing the stimulus (Britton, Muth, &amp; Glynn, 1986). Methods of assessing mental ef- fort and similar constructs fall into three main categories: opinion measures, dual-task tech- niques, and physiological measures. </p><p>Opinion measures encompass the variety of self-report measures used to assess men- tal effort. Opinion measures assume that the investment of effort is a voluntary process that is under the control of the individual and as such is available for introspection. Examples of rating scales that have been used to assess the amount of effort that learners feel they are investing in a task are the Inventory of Learn- ing Processes (ILP) scale (Schmeck, Ribich, &amp; Ramanaiah, 1977) and the Amount of Invested Mental Effort (AIME) questionnaire (Salomon, 1983b; Salomon, 1984; Salomon &amp; Leigh, 1984). </p><p>Dual-task techniques encompass a range of methods whereby the learner is assigned a pri- mary task such as reading a passage, work- ing a problem, or viewing a videotape, as well as a secondary task such as responding to a tone (Britton et al., 1986; Meadowcroft &amp; Reeves, 1989); responding to a light flash (Grimes, 1990; Reeves, Thorson, &amp; Schleuder, 1985); finger tapping (Kee &amp; Davis, 1990; </p></li><li><p>PRECONCEPTIONS AND MENTAL EFFORT 37 </p><p>WierwiUe, Rahimi, &amp; Casali, 1985); or estimat- ing a time interval (Casali &amp; Wierwille, 1983a, 1983b; Wierwille &amp; Connor, 1983; WierwiUe et al., 1985). Dual-task techniques assume that there is a limit to the learner's cognitive ca- pacity, and that when a great deal of cogni- tive capacity is consumed by the primary task, less capacity is available to devote to the sec- ondary task. Consequently, differences be- tween learners' performance on a baseline measurement of the secondary task and per- formance under experimental conditions are assumed to be an indication of the amount of effort they expended on the primary task....</p></li></ul>