The multimedia learning method

In the past, students go to school to learn how to read, write and understand some fundamental concepts. Traditional education requires students to read number of books, write numbers of essays, and understand complex ideas by memorize numbers of facts. Information providing to students often come from textbooks and lectures given by teachers.

Today students go to school to learn lifelong learning skills to develop careers that can change with the demands of the job market. Information providing to students comes NOT ONLY from textbooks BUT ALSO from other areas such as images and sounds (Multi-media). Lectures can be obtained by classroom's teachers or via online by teachers who come from other part of the world such as from Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC).

Although a majority of schools are still teaching using the traditional system (Textbooks and lectures) but things are changing and accelerate at much faster pace toward the new system due to its efficiency and effectively. For example, in S. Korea and Finland today, from elementary to college, most classrooms' information is stored in an online multi-media library where students can access at any time before and after classes. Student learn before go to school so they can use classroom time to discuss, debate, get questions answered and work in team to solve problems. Of course, not everything is obvious in the beginning as students are not familiar with this new method of learning. Seeing pictures or watching a short video is exciting but understand and retain the information require different learning attitude. To be familiar with this new learning technique using multi-media before coming to class requires students to be trained differently in learning the “visual language” of images and sounds just like they learn "read" and "write" the written language.

The method of multi-media learning system is the foundation of critical thinking development. It forces students to identify key concepts, make connections between multiple ideas, analyze the main concept, ask questions, and identify variations before drawing the final logical conclusion. In the old “textual learning” concept, everything come in with answers in written form and formulas and students are taught to memorize them instead of solving them. In the multi-media learning method, everything come in as verbal, aural, and visual together so it can help students grasping ideas faster and more accurate. Instead of reading, understanding and memorizing, students can grasp the concept quickly, and immediately analyze process and make decision quickly.

We are living in a world where there is an explosion of information that can overwhelm anyone. It also challenges the traditional education method. For centuries, schooling has been designed to make sure students memorize facts which they proved they knew by correctly answering questions on tests. But such a system no longer works when there are so many facts and some of these facts are changing quickly. What is needed today is for students to learn HOW TO LEARN, HOW TO FIND what they need to know, when they need to know it. And to have the thinking skills to critically analyze and evaluate whether the information they find is useful for what they want to know. There is a new term called “The digital divide” refers to the gap between people with access to information technology and those with limited access or no access at all. By “access to information” it does not means just the physical aspect such as having computer or connect to the internet but also the knowledge and skills needed to participate in the knowledge society. A “digital citizen” refers to a person that participates in society using information technology.

With the new learning method using multi-media, Students do not need to accumulate all the information by memorization. What they need to know is HOW TO FIND and manages the information needed at a particular time for a particular task. They need to know HOW TO PROCESS the information that they can easily retrieve through technology such as search engine in the internet. To do that schools need to change from the “Transferring of knowledge” to the “Guidance to find knowledge” where students can gather, explore, questions, discussion, debate, experiment, and draw logical conclusions. Teachers do not need to pours knowledge into students' head. Teachers no longer have to know all the answers or to be a "Source of all knowledge”. Instead teachers are becoming a "guide for the learning journey” guiding, encouraging, mentoring, supporting the learning process. Classrooms should be the place where everyone is learning, including the teacher.

Training programs, curriculum, classes and activities must be redesigned to engage students in problem solving and discovery, in learning how to learn and develop life skills for learning continuously. Today’s multi-media technology provides a nearly limitless resource for learning and acquiring a set of skills for students to thrive in this technology driven world. The transformation of our society from an Industrial Age to an Information Age is why a new kind of teaching and learning are critical for any society to prosper in this 21st century.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

You may like