Media Overview
Media Elements
Media Selection
Principles of Multimedia
User Interface Design
Print & Graphics
Flash MX
Audio & Video
Internet / Intranet

  Media > Media Selection

Media Selection

Clark & Mayer (2003) assert three key assumptions underlying a cognitive theory of multimedia learning:

A Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning



Dual Channels

Humans possess separate channels for processing visual and auditory information

Limited Capacity
(cognitive load)

Humans are limited in the amount of information that they can process in each channel at one time

Active Processing

Humans engage in active learning by attending to relevant incoming information, organizing selected information into coherent mental representations, and integrating mental representations with other knowledge

The following graphic was introduced in the Section on Instruction — providing an overview definition of Instructional Strategy — to define what is meant by an "instructionally sound" learning experience. Here emphasis highlights media element definition and production. This illustrates that Media Design decisions are powerfully determined by the preceding decisions about Objectives, Content, and Instructional Method — while keeping in mind the realism of the Delivery System that is available.

  • The "appropriateness" or justification for using of a particular type of media element depends upon its context in an Instructional Strategy which describes the desired learner experience.
  • The "appropriateness" or soundness of a media element must also be evaluated in terms of production methods that are cost-efficient and logistically realistic.

Key Media Terms

The following definitions describe the context in which media selection, design and development operates.

Media Elements

Text, graphics, animation, video, audio and dynamic User Interface components which are used to present content.

Media elements may be printed (book, workbook), or electronic (computer, Internet, projection, CD-ROM, DVD, videocassette, audiocassette), or human (gestures and voice of an instructor, mentor, or peer). There are distinct production technique and best practices related to each of these forms.

Multimedia is the mixing, synchronizing and sequencing of several media elements together to enhance their communication, instructional or aesthetic value.

It is important not to confuse the base Media Elements with the Delivery System through which they are presented, such as a classroom, internet, CD-ROM, DVD, videocassette, broadcast television, etc. In common language the term "Media" means both the content experience (the sensory package), and how it is delivered (the technology medium). Our goal is to explicitly define Media and Delivery System as distinct levels of technology, with specific production and implementation issues.

Instructional Media

Media Elements that are used as part of an instructional strategy; a delivery agent of instructional method. This may include electronic forms such as computers and internet, printed forms such as workbooks, and human forms such as instructors.

 Not all media can carry an instructional method with equal effectiveness.
 There is no one "best" media.
 Research has shown that instructional method is far more important than instructional media.

The mixing of media, and the blending of instructional experiences within a course offer a tremendous range of Instructional Media choices.

Instructional Methods Techniques used to help learners process new information in ways that lead to learning. Instructional methods include techniques such as presentation, demonstrations, models & examples, practice exercises, simulations, guidance, feedback, reinforcement, and group process interactions.
Instructional Delivery

Physical and electronic infrastructure that enables delivery of information, instruction and media.

The list of Delivery Systems includes both physical and virtual classrooms, physical books and electronic books, educational broadcast television, and interactive multimedia — via internet or CD ROM.

A "Blended Learning" solution will utilize a realistic composition of delivery modes as part of a course offering.


Instructional Method & Media: 10 Examples

The following list of ten terms illustrates the intimate relationship between instructional method and instructional media.

  • For instance, a "simulation," a "lecture," or a "drill & practice" can be each thought of as either method or medium, or both simultaneously. In colloquial use, the difference is not important. However, for an instructor or designer who is defining the tasks of instruction, the blurring of distinctions can set up a category error that can be damaging.
  • Clarity is required to distinguish one category of tasks from another:
  • Often instructional development can become 'technologically driven' — based on the instructor's past experience, preferences and current skill with a particular authoring tool. In these cases, there is inadequate planning of instructional design, and the greater focus is on media implementation details of a particular tool set.
  • Effective instructional design requires that:
    • First, an instructional objective drives the choice of instructional method.
    • Then, instructional method and environmental context drives the selection & development of appropriate instructional media.
    • It is only in this way that the end result is instructionally sound and appropriate to the audience.
    • What is meant by instructional "soundness" is the congruence between objective, method, media and learner.
    • What appears good in theory may not turn out the same in practice. So application in a real world learning situation is that only way to empirically validate this "congruence" required for instructional effectiveness.
  • The following chart is intended to contrast the difference between methods and media. It is meant to show that there are many options in how an instructional method is designed, and many options of how an instructional media is developed. In this chart the instructional media is electronic to emphasize online learning, but print and visual aids might also be used in a classroom context.
  • A more complete list of instructional method options is presented in the section called "Blended Learning", and an overview of learning modes is presented in the section "Learning Architectures".
 Case Study
 Reference Material


Instructional Method: Approximates a real or imaginary experience where users' actions affect their outcomes. Users determine and input initial conditions that generate output that is different from and changed by the initial conditions.

Instructional Media Options: Flash, DHTML,ToolBook (CBT), Java Applet, C++


Instructional Method: Allows users to view the dynamic and visual representation of concepts, models, processes, and/or phenomena in space or time. This is typically a graphic presentation method — users may be able to control their pace or movement through the presentation, but they cannot determine and/or alter the initial conditions or their outcomes/results.

Instructional Media Options: Flash, DHTML, ToolBook, Java Applet, Gif Animation


Instructional Method: Users navigate through electronic workbooks designed to meet stated learning objectives, structured to impart specific concepts or skills, and organized sequentially to integrate conceptual presentation, demonstration, practice, and testing.

Instructional Media Options: Flash, DHTML ,ToolBook (CBT), Java Applet

Drill & Practice

Instructional Method: Requires users to respond repeatedly to questions or stimuli presented in a variety of sequences. Can be done in a group setting, in dyads, or individual practice on their own, at their own pace. The goal is to develop the learners' ability to reliably perform and demonstrate the target knowledge and skills. This environment is typically a directive learning mode.

Instructional Media Options: Flash, DHTML,ToolBook (CBT), Java Applet


Instructional Method: Any assessment device intended to serve as a test or quiz. The goal is engage the learning in interactive tasks and challenges that will reveal the knowledge or skill that has been attained.

Instructional Media Options: Flash, DHTML, ToolBook, Java Applet


Instructional Method: Oral presentation to a class. Use of lecture notes-handouts, audio visual materials, and presentation graphics such as PowerPoint slides do not stand alone, but require the sequencing and oral narrative of the instructor. Learning modes are typically receptive and/or directive learning. Most classroom lectures are a two-way flow of communication: the instructor asking questions and eliciting responses from the class, and learners interrupting the presentation by asking clarifying questions.

Instructional Media Options: PowerPoint slides, Flash, Text & Graphic Handouts


Instructional Method: The learning process is often enhanced by its social context. Learners may learn best in small groups, dyads, shared task assignments, project groups, or teams. The interaction with peers may be just as important to anchoring learning process as the interaction with an instructor or mentor. Intentional collaborative assignments can be used as a method of bringing an extended social network into the classroom, and/or introducing a process of learning that requires communication, cooperation, critical thinking, and empathy skills.

Instructional Media Options: Virtual classroom, Blogs, Wikis, Groupware, Email, Internet and Intranet

Case Study

Instructional Method: Illustrates a concept or problem by using an example that can be explored in depth. Such case study materials can be used for receptive, directive, guided discovery and/or exploratory learning modes.

Instructional Media Options: HTML, Flash, Audio & Video, Text & Graphics


Instructional Method: Any collection of learning materials such as web sites or subject specific applets that enable the user to engage in guided discovery and/or exploratory learning

Instructional Media Options: HTML, Java applets, Flash, Tex & Graphics, Audio & Video

Reference Material

Instructional Method: Material with no specific instructional objectives and similar to that found in the reference area of a library. Subject specific directories to other sites, texts, or general information are examples. The environment enables the learner to engage in discovery learning, and problem-based learning activities.

Instructional Media Options: HTML, Text & Graphics, Audio & Video


Instructional Decisions Affecting Media Selection

Media decisions are based on the following criteria:

  • Can the proposed media element present the required instructional method?
  • Is the proposed media element cost-effective – both in its development and delivery costs?
  • Are there special administrative issues involved in the use of the proposed media element: location of trainees, availability of delivery platforms, logistics, and realism?
  • Are there special technical issues involved in the use of the proposed media elements (related to Delivery System): hardware, operating system, application software, and environment?

The following graphic is designed to provide a map of the instructional design decisions which affect media selection.

Years of research has shown that there is no one “best” media. Different media are appropriate for different audiences and different circumstances. Research has shown that instructional method is far more important than instructional media. Artistic excellence or expensive media elements can not guarantee that learning will occur, whereas excellence in instructional method is directly related to demonstrations of learning and performance transferred to the work setting.

  • The primary decisions of objectives and instructional methods will determine which media will be most appropriate for a lesson.
  • Secondarily, the instructional media is determined by the available skills of the designers and developers, and the availability of required resources.
  • These instructional decision are optimally made during the early definition & design phases, prior to beginning actual media production.


Media Selection

  2003 Cognitive Design Solutions, Inc.