Single Media as an instructional device

When creating an instruction that uses a single media to teach, such as text or graphics, I have found that you have to pay a lot more attention to how you convey your information. While the saying may go that “a picture is worth a thousand words”, if that picture does not accurately convey your message to your student, those words are wasted and could even be misconstrued. Details become far more important.

I had a lot of previous experience designing text-based instruction. Even with this experience and much attention to detail, when I went back and looked at my document the following week, I found errors in it. Not only is it important to key in on the details; it is a good idea to have an outsider test your instructions.

The graphic instructions were much more difficult to design. Not being creative in that way, I struggled with the creation of images from scratch. Using someone else’s image as a starting point and tracing helped, but even then, I am a perfectionist and put way too much detail into many of the drawings. I found myself working for hours on one image. This project probably took me in excess of 120 hours this week.

The graphic project seems very limited to me. For one thing, graphics have to be a certain size to be legible. When laying them out on the page, I had a set of five steps which needed to be repeated. I wanted to put all the steps on one page so that I might easily create a circular flow from the last step to the first. Unfortunately there was no way to fit all five steps on the page without shrinking the images to the point of illegibility. I ended up with an arrow spanning two pages.

The benefit to the graphic instruction is its simplicity. It leaves a very clean interface which is very easy to follow, and it is not language specific. Of course, images would only work for a sighted person. A person using a screen reader to access these instructions would need to have text describing every image, and then they might as well just have the text-based instructions.

In the past I have used a combination approach where both text and images were incorporated together to create instruction. This has the advantage of allowing the images to reinforce the text instructions and clear up misconceptions, as well as providing a language-free version of the instructions. The text, on the other hand, ensures the picture conveys a clear message and helps provide order and flow to the instructions. It also provides an alternative to a person with a visual disability.

Even if Clark is correct and media is just a vehicle for delivery of instruction and does not impact the instruction itself, I think that the vehicle can make a difference in timing, presentation, and cost. For example, my husband works for Federal Express as a courier. Obviously not every package gets sent via Federal Express. To do so would be very expensive, as it can cost upward of $40 to send a package First Overnight. However, there is no other guaranteed way to get a package from my office in Texas to an office in New York by 8:30 am the next morning. Obviously, even though it is just a vehicle, that white truck with purple and red lettering makes a difference in timing. If the package arrives in good condition and the courier is polite and professional, then you may notice a difference in presentation as well.

I think the truth is somewhere in between Clark and Kozma. I don’t know if media has a huge impact on instruction. But I think it has some. I think that your choice of media can affect engagement and motivation. I think it can influence how long you are willing to spend working on the instruction. I am far more likely to work on an instruction that feels like a game than an instruction that feels like a chore. A well designed instruction, bundled with the correct media, can make a huge impact. Media by itself won’t have that great of an effect.

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