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Core Principles of Educational Multimedia - INTRODUCTION, THE EFFECTIVE IMPLEMENTATION OF MULTIMEDIA IN EDUCATIONAL CONTEXTS, Instructional Design Principles, Professional Development Issues

learning technology technologies practice

Geraldine Torrisi-Steele
Griffith University, Australia


The notion of using technology for educational purposes is not new. In fact, it can be traced back to the early 1900s during which school museums were used to distribute portable exhibits. This was the beginning of the visual education movement that persisted throughout the 1930s, as advances in technology such as radio and sound motion pictures continued. The training needs of World War II stimulated serious growth in the audiovisual instruction movement. Instructional television arrived in the 1950s but had little impact, due mainly to the expense of installing and maintaining systems. The advent of computers in the 1950s laid the foundation for CAI (computer assisted instruction) through the 1960s and 1970s. However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that computers began to make a major impact on education (Reiser, 2001). Early applications of computer resources included the use of primitive simulation. These early simulations had little graphic capabilities and did little to enhance the learning experience (Munro, 2000).

Since the 1990s, there have been rapid advances in computer technologies in the area of multimedia production tools, delivery, and storage devices. Throughout the 1990s, numerous CD-ROM educational multimedia software was produced and was used in educational settings. More recently, the advent of the World Wide Web (WWW) and associated information and communications technologies (ICT) has opened a vast array of possibilities for the use of multimedia technologies to enrich the learning environment. Today, educational institutions are investing considerable effort and money into the use of multimedia. The use of multimedia technologies in educational institutions is seen as necessary for keeping education relevant to the 21 st century (Selwyn & Gordard, 2003).

The term multimedia as used in this article refers to any technologies that make possible “the entirely digital delivery of content presented by using an integrated combination of audio, video, images (two-dimensional, three-dimensional) and text,” along with the capacity to support user interaction (Torrisi-Steele, 2004, p. 24). Multimedia encompasses related communications technologies such as e-mail, chat, video-conferencing, and so forth. “The concept of interaction may be conceptualised as occurring along two dimensions: the capacity of the system to allow individual to control the pace of presentation and to make choices about which pathways are followed to move through the content; and the ability of the system to accept input from the user and provide appropriate feedback to that input…. Multimedia may be delivered on computer via CD-ROM, DVD, via the internet or on other devices such as mobile phones and personal digital assistants or any digital device capable of supporting interactive and integrated delivery of digital audio, video, image and text data” (Torrisi-Steele, 2004, p. 24).

The fundamental belief underlying this article is that the goal of implementing multimedia into educational contexts is to exploit the attributes of multimedia technologies in order to support deeper, more meaningful learner-centered learning. Furthermore, if multimedia is integrated effectively into educational contexts, then teaching and learning practice must necessarily be transformed (Torrisi-Steele, 2004). It is intended that this article will serve as a useful starting point for educators beginning to use multimedia. This article attempts to provide an overview of concepts related to the effective application of multimedia technologies to educational contexts. First, constructivist perspective is discussed as the accepted framework for the design of multimedia learning environments. Following this, the characteristics of constructivist multimedia learning environments are noted, and then some important professional development issues are highlighted.


Instructional Design Principles

Founded on constructivist principles, Savery and Duffy (1996) propose eight constructivist principles useful for guiding the instructional design of multimedia learning environments:

  • Anchor all learning activities to a larger task or problem.
  • Support learning in developing ownership for the overall problem or task.
  • Design an authentic task.
  • Design the tasks and learning environment to reflect the complexity of the environment that students should be able to function in at the end of learning.
  • Give the learner ownership of the process to develop a solution.
  • Design the learning environment to support and challenge the learner’s thinking.
  • Encourage testing ideas against alternative views and contexts.
  • Provide opportunity for and support reflection on both the content learned and the process itself.

Along similar lines, Jonassen (1994) summarizes the basic tenets of the constructivist-guided instructional design models to develop learning environments that:

  • Provide multiple representations of reality;
  • Represent the natural complexity of the real world;
  • Focus on knowledge construction, not reproduction;
  • Present authentic tasks (contextualizing rather than abstracting instruction);
  • Provide real-world, case-based learning environments rather than pre-determined instructional sequences;
  • Foster reflective practice;
  • Enable context-dependent and content-dependent knowledge construction; and support collaborative construction of knowledge through social negotiation, not competition among learners for recognition.

Professional Development Issues

While multimedia is perceived as having the potential to reshape teaching practice, oftentimes the attributes of multimedia technologies are not exploited effectively in order to maximize and create new learning opportunities, resulting in little impact on the learning environment. At the crux of this issue is the failure of educators to effectively integrate the multimedia technologies into the learning context.

[S]imply thinking up clever ways to use computers in traditional courses [relegates] technology to a secondary, supplemental role that fails to capitalise on its most potent strengths. (Strommen, 1999, p. 2)

The use of information technology has the potential to radically change what happens in higher education…every tutor who uses it in more than a superficial way will need to re-examine his or her approach to teaching and learning and adopt new strategies. (Tearle, Dillon, & Davis, 1999, p. 10)

Two key principles should underlie professional development efforts aimed at facilitating the effective integration of technology in such a way so as to produce positive innovative changes in practice:

Principle 1: Transformation in practice as an evolutionary process

Transformation of practice through the integration of multimedia is a process occurring over time that is best conceptualized perhaps by the continuum of stages of instructional evolution presented by Sandholtz, Ringstaff, and Dwyer (1997):

  • Stage One: Entry point for technology use where there is an awareness of possibilities, but the technology does not significantly impact on practice.
  • Stage Two: Adaptation stage where there is some evidence of integrating technology into existing practice
  • Stage Three: Transformation stage where the technology is a catalyst for significant changes in practice.

The idea of progressive technology adoption is supported by others. For example, Goddard (2002) recognizes five stages of progression:

  • Knowledge Stage: Awareness of technology existence.
  • Persuasion Stage: Technology as support for traditional productivity rather than curriculum related.
  • Decision Stage: Acceptance or rejection of technology for curriculum use (acceptance leading to supplemental uses).
  • Implementation Stage: Recognition that technology can help achieve some curriculum goals.
  • Confirmation Stage: Use of technology leads to redefinition of learning environment—true integration leading to change.

The recognition that technology integration is an evolutionary process precipitates the second key principle that should underlie professional development programs—reflective practice.

Principle 2: Transformation is necessarily fueled by reflective practice

A lack of reflection often leads to perpetuation of traditional teaching methods that may be inappropriate and thus fail to bring about “high quality student learning” (Ballantyne, Bain & Packer, 1999, p. 237). It is important that professional development programs focus on sustained reflection on practice from the beginning of endeavors in multimedia materials development through completion stages, followed by debriefing and further reflection feedback into a cycle of continuous evolution of thought and practice. The need for educators to reflect on their practice in order to facilitate effective and transformative integration of multimedia technologies cannot be understated.

In addition to these two principles, the following considerations for professional development programs, arising from the authors’ investigation into the training needs for educators developing multimedia materials, are also important:

  • The knowledge-delivery view of online technologies must be challenged, as it merely replicates teacher-centered models of knowledge transmission and has little value in reshaping practice;
  • Empathising with and addressing concerns that arise from educators’ attempts at innovation through technology;
  • Equipping educators with knowledge about the potential of the new technologies (i.e., online) must occur within the context of the total curriculum rather than in isolation of the academic’s curriculum needs;
  • Fostering a team-orientated, collaborative, and supportive approach to online materials production;
  • Providing opportunities for developing basic computer competencies necessary for developing confidence in using technology as a normal part of teaching activities.


Undeniably, rapid changes in technologies available for implementation in learning contexts will persist. There is no doubt that emerging technologies will offer a greater array of possibilities for enhancing learning. Simply implementing new technologies in ways that replicate traditional teaching strategies is counterproductive. Thus, there is an urgent and continuing need for ongoing research into how to best exploit the attributes of emerging technologies to further enhance the quality of teaching and learning environments so as to facilitate development of lifelong learners, who are adequately equipped to participate in society.


This article has reviewed core principles of the constructivist view of learning, the accepted framework for guiding the design of technology-based learning environments. Special note was made of the importance of interactivity to support constructivist principles. Design guidelines based on constructivist principles also were noted. Finally, the importance of professional development for educators that focuses on reflective practice and evolutionary approach to practice transformation was discussed. In implementing future technologies in educational contexts, the goal must remain to improve the quality of teaching and learning.

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