Instructional animation & the human mind

25 May 2011

When are animations more effective than static graphics for learning? Join Nadine Marcus from the University of New South Wales as she presents the seminar "Human motor skills" and discusses research on how the human mind processes visualisations, and how these visualisation can be used for learning human motor skills.

Abstract: Reviews of the literature comparing dynamic visualizations (animations) with static visualizations (statics), have produced mixed results, with some studies finding animations produce better learning outcomes (see Höffler and Leutner, 2007), and others finding statics to be the best learning environment (Mayer, Hegarty, Campbell & Mayer, 2005).

It is suggested that the poor performance of instructional animations compared with static graphics can be explained by cognitive load theory (Paas, Renkl, & Sweller, 2003; Sweller, 2005). Cognitive load theory is based on the assumption that we have a very limited working memory, which we use to acquire new information. The transitory nature of instructional animations can be seen as an inhibiting factor in their success, due to the strain placed on our limited working memories.

Research by Ayres, Marcus, Chan & Qian (2009) and Wong, Marcus, Ayres, Smith, Cooper, Paas & Sweller (2009) identifies some of the conditions under which instructional animations are effective. We suggest that because we have evolved to learn by imitating (Blandin, Lhuisset & Proteau, 1999) using mirror neurons (Rizzolatti & Craighero, 2004), we may be able to harness these capabilities when observing instructional animations depicting human movement and so reduce the burden on working memory. These benefits are unlikely to extend to animations of mechanical tasks. More recent research by our group supports these conclusions further.

We thus propose that animations may be particularly apt in teaching about motor skills due to our innate ability to learn through observation (see van Gog, Paas, Marcus, Ayres, & Sweller, 2009).

Dr Nadine Marcus is a Lecturer in Human Computer Interaction within the School of Computer Science and Engineering, UNSW. She has a cross-disciplinary background: BSc in Computer Science & Psychology (Wits), BSc Honours in Experimental Psychology (UCT), and PhD in Education (UNSW). Her research focuses on the design of multimedia educational technology that improves learning. The research involves both the collection of empirical data, so results can inform multimedia theories of instructional design; as well as the creation of an eLearning software platform, known as the Adaptive eLearning Platform (AeLP). The AeLP has been used by 1000's of students, in the form of online tutorials and laboratories, in more than 15 courses across UNSW. She also researches speech based, real-time measures of mental load that can be used to inform Interface Design.

Time: 11.00am to 12.230 pm (Please join us for a cup of tea or coffee at 10:45am)

Location: Rm 230, Lvl 2, A35 Education Building

Email: 105e1b1a282b202d410c317c264f1744304c

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