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John Lancett

EDCI 888
March 1, 2015

e-Learning

and the Science of Instruction Book Review


By Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer

Being a person that is trying to make the leap from being a classroom teacher into the
online learning environment I am continually surprised at the amount of considerations that need to
be taken in order to proved learners with the optimal learning experience and environment. There
are any number of different opinions about the ways that people learn best in a virtual environment
but one of the most valuable sources that I have found is the book e-learning and the Science of
Instruction written by Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer. This book should be considered one
of the staples in the online classroom instructional design field.
The book works off of some fairly interesting premises the first can be summarised through
this quote, When technophiles become so excited about cutting-edge technology that they ignore
human mental limitations, they may not be able to leverage technology in ways that support
learning. Instructional methods that support rather than defeat human learning processes are an
essential ingredient of all effective e-learning courseware (Clark & Mayer, 2011, p. 8). While this
can be true of what they call technophiles it can also be true of almost any instructional deliverer,
whether they are online or in a face-to-face environment. No matter what kind of instruction that is
being delivered the most important factor in the success of that instruction comes from the learners
attributes and existing knowledge/skill level.
Our definition states that the goal of e-learning is to build job-transferable knowledge and
skills linked to organisational performance or to help individuals achieve personal learning goals

(Clark & Mayer, 2011 p. 11). This is a very valuable things to point out about this book, while the
authors are presenting and idea that is a general learning or instructional practice they are basing
many of their assumptions and ideas on the kind of instruction that companies need to employ.
Much of what the book uses as its basis for instructional practice comes from a multitude of
sources and studies that have been done over the past several decades. One of the key elements
that the book spends considerable amounts of time looking at is the correlation between text and
media. Butcher (2006) found that people developed a deeper understanding of how the human
heart works from text with simple illustration (as cited in Clark & Mayer, 2011 p. 80). This may
seem like a simple statement and on the surface it completely is. However, upon further
investigation it seems that the obvious is not always the rule when it comes to developing well
organised instruction that works. The book goes into great depth on the subject of multimedia
design and really plays on the idea that all instructional designers must focus on the graphics and
media that accompany the text on any given/page and or slide.
So what about the question that many novice instructional designers have? Are graphics
better if they are moving and showing processes, such as GIFs or animations? The authors go into
great detail to show that, the so-called passive medium of illustrations and text actually allowed for
active processing because the learners had to mentally animate the changes from one frame to the
next and learners were able to control the order and pace of their processing (Clark & Mayer, 2011
p. 84). This does not mean that animations are not useful, it simply means that when text is
involved that static graphics provide the learner with a better opportunity for mental processing
which often means better or more learning is taking place.

Much of what the book takes on through various ways is the streamlining of information
onto either slides or pages. In an online learning environment it can be said that often students find
things to be confusing and or tedious, this is a major problem according to Clark and Mayer. In fact
anything that that detracts from the students attention can be considered, extraneous processing
cognitive processing that is unrelated to the instructional goal (2011, p. 105). The authors go
into further strengthen their argument that when words and pictures are in corresponding locations
that learners are able to better process the information as well as make more intricate connections
between the concepts that are being presented. They go onto the say further that images should
be explained in with text or audio but not in both formats.
Backing up what others have said about collaboration and learning goals Clark and Mayer
argue that when working alone you are not as effective as when working one on one with and
instructor. They also argue that products and projects will be of better more intricate quality when
working in a group setting When working together, the group is capable of doing more than any
single member by comparing alternative interpretations and solutions, comparing alternative
interpretations and solutions, correcting each others misconceptions, and forming a more holistic
picture of the problem (Clark & Mayer, 2011 p. 291). The collaboration aspect has already been
explored by some in the online education world with ample success and it will continue to grow in
importance as more users and designers become familiar with the process of collaboration.
Two of the learner protocols that the authors discuss are of extreme interest to me, the first
one is adaptive control. This type of learning bases the learning experience on the success that the
learner has. In other words it adjusts according to ability level. This coupled with the 4th learner
protocol that Clark and Mayer present, which is Give Pacing Control offer, in my opinion the best

tools through which online education can be shaped and modelled on for years to come (Clark and
Mayer 2011 p. 327).
Overall the book provides a good scope of issues to consider when designing an optimal
online learning environment. It really walks a novice through the psychology behind the structures
presented and allows for there to be analysis and synthesis in the design process. I would
recommend this book to anyone looking into the basis elements of online learning environments.

Reference:
Clark, R.C., & Mayer, R.E. (2011). E-Learning and the science of instruction:
Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning (3rd
ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.