Want to know something cool?

One point of view, taking note of sundry "cool" things that affect-- or could affect-- the education business.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Students are media-savvy consumers

Want to know something cool? Students are so accustomed to multisensory input, most of them will absorb information no matter how it's presented to them. While this bucks the trend of pigeonholed learner types-- auditory, tactile, kinesthetic, etc.-- the simple fact is that students are way ahead of their teachers when it comes to the transparency of "technology" as a learning metaphor.

Once students reach middle school, most of them are virtually immune to the "wow" factor of using a computer (though incorporating a PSP might get them psyched). To students of the Interactive Age, content is content, and how it is delivered is largely a secondary consideration.

In a 2005 survey of college students, 87% expressed an interest in receiving audio or multimedia content for their courses, and many expressed dismay at the fact that this isn't already the norm. A full 91% of these students carry a cell phone, whereas only about one-third carry an mp3 player or PDA. But even those students who don't own an iPod or a Treo expressed a great deal of interest in being able to download media content to supplement their course materials.

Several major universities have begun to offer downloads (podcasts) of instructor lectures. Several others have conducted pilot programs using personal media devices to various ends, including recording, vocabulary reinforcement, practical language skills, and audio study aids. While Apple may want us to believe that the iPod is ubiquitous, they've not (yet) reach a plurality of market share. However, media content is in great demand.

Surprisingly (or maybe you saw this coming), 47% of students given the option would prefer to read a chapter in their textbook versus listening to an audio version. Also unexpected were the disciplines for which students felt audio content could be most helpful, with quantitative subjects like Economics and Accounting scoring high on the list.

Teaching ... delivering information and training students to apply their knowledge ... lags behind our learners when it comes to leveraging media assets. The challenge for teachers and developers of educational content is to match medium to message. Some content lends itself to a particular metaphor, allowing a particular medium to add value to the content. Too often, we provide students with media content because we can, without consideration of how the value of that content might be affected by its' delivery. We need to develop different content that is designed specifically to build on a particular medium's unique advantages, and integrate the various components of a "program" such that we're not simply rehashing the same stuff in two different platforms. If we offer audio study guides and review questions, can we eliminate these aspects of the printed text? If the textbook has quantitative practice problems, is there really any value in providing them in an audio format?

Podcasting (newly integrated into the Oxford lexicon as "Word of the Year") didn't really catch on until creators discovered how to unlock the value in an audio download. (There are still plenty of "audio blogs" that are painfully inadequate to the task.) But eventually, a completely new metaphor has emerged, which resembles talk radio more than it does "online" content.

It is time for us to establish a new metaphor for media content in education, whereby we add value to the content rather than simply repackaging it. Cool, huh?

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