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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Learning and Technology

The ability to effectively communicate is widely recognized as an essential component of health education, however, effective communication is difficult (National Cancer Institute, no date/online). Students present different backgrounds, experiences, and ability levels; health information can be complex and controversial; and peers, family, and media often reinforce misinformation. Additionally, health is often an emotional subject. Diseases such as AIDS or cancer may elicit fear, topics such as birth control and sexuality are often sensitive issues, and each individual presents unique personal beliefs (NCI, ). Given the complexity of effective communication, methods to enhance expression and increase learning are needed.
The role of communication in health education
Communication can increase awareness, affect attitudes, demonstrate skills, increase demand, and reinforce knowledge, attitudes, or behaviors (NCI, ). The PRECEDE model developed by Lawrence Green proposes health behavior is influenced by predisposing factors such as knowledge, attitude, and behavior; enabling factors including community and environment; and reinforcing factors which influence the likelihood of continuing the behavior. (Green, ?). Commercial media uses these principles. Examining the psychology of media production, Bernard Luskin, states "Producing media software is a communications craft. The successful producer must combine the knack of thinking visually, drawing upon a myriad of techniques taken from communications arts…" (Luskin, 1998). Imagine the impact of an anti-drug campaign as effective as a Nike advertisement! The "success" of commercial endeavors is not a mystery but rather the result of applying effective communication techniques through the use of available technology. This article will attempt to demonstrate how technology can enhance communication in the classroom and improve learning.
Traditional classrooms use an Aristotelian model of communication where a speaker presents an issue in the form of speech directed toward the listener(s). It is characterized by one-way communication or what is commonly known as a lecture. If questions are posed (such as in the Socratic method), communication still exists in a singular form. Issues related to individual perception, background, learning style, noise, distractors, and other factors are not addressed. In an attempt to account for these factors, the Shannon-Schramm Communication Model demonstrates the communication process as related to perception, field of experience, noise, feedback, and the sender/encoder- decoder/receiver. This model provides a working foundation for the inclusion of educational technology into the school health curriculum. As society becomes more complex, the field of experience also becomes more complex. This is especially true of health information (NCI, online no date). Media and other forms of communication capitalize on the ability to "create" a uniform schema or foundational knowledge base, however, an individuals field of experience is shaped by more than media. It is important to assess this information when designing learning activities.
Learning Styles
Drawing on theoretical foundations for how people learn provides a framework for enhancing learning through improving communication. Cognitive learning styles refer to "the preferred way an individual processes information" (TIP Concepts, 199?). Several theories provide guidance based upon multiple intelligence, developmental stages, learning strategies, and other criteria. Most acknowledge the need to assess student learning and experience in order to create a common field of experience capable of enhancing communication and understanding.
Technology has the potential to positively impact learning by communicating information in a different modality than print or traditional lectures by "individualizing" the rate, progression, feedback, and duration of instruction (Owston, 1997). Drawing on the premise that students learn in different ways, at different rates, and from different perspectives, the ability of technology to "individualize" instruction is promising.
Technology creates a common field of experience
The example of individual experience as related to perception can be demonstrated by the reference to "a tree". It is expected that everyone is familiar with the term, but individual experience dictates the "meaning" inferred by each person. Even if a more descriptive explanation is provided (for example, a Mesquite tree), individual experience directs the process. If a student has never seen a Mesquite tree, the label alone does little to assist in the learning process. Technology enhances this stage of communication by quickly creating a common field of experience through the use of other medium…in this case a photograph.
In addition to creating a common field of experience, technology is capable of providing a more exact interpretation of information. For example, positive or negative connotations are associated with specific words, gestures, or even intonations. Once again, by providing information in a variety of formats, desired meaning is more likely to be communicated and understood. Media recognizes semantics as powerful tools in the communication process; "Managing language is fundamental to communication and central to our ability to understand…Words, their use and articulation, alliteration, intonation and patterns are central to media communications." (Luskin, 1998).
A common field of experience may be created for an individual or a group further reducing potential communication problems. The importance of creating a common field of experience is clearly demonstrated when communicating with an individual who is blind or deaf…the ability to use alternative formats such as auditory or visual information bypasses barriers experienced as a result of the disability. Cognitive barriers based on learning style, ability, previous experience, expectations, and preference are less obvious variations on different methods of acquiring information but no less important to effective communication.
Technology provides inclusive communication
Studies in the field of educational technology have found students are most commonly "active-concrete" learners while "the majority of faculty prefer the IN pattern, creating a disparity between teacher and learner" (Twigg, 1997). Twigg poses the question; "How can our faculty respond to diverse learning patterns when their primary pedagogy consists of classroom lecture?". This concern is a repeated theme among advocates of educational reform and the use of instructional technology. Howard Gardner (1983) proposed the Theory of Multiple Intelligences which recognizes seven distinct forms of intelligence; logical, mathematical, linguistic, spatial, musical, bodily, and personal. Implications for the classroom are profound; "The theory states all seven intelligences are needed to productively function in society. Teachers therefore, should think of all intelligences as equally important. This is in great contrast to traditional education systems which typically place a strong emphasis on the development and use of verbal and mathematical intelligences." (Brunaldi, 1996).
Technology not only provides a means to create a common field of experience, but is capable of delivering information in a manner that decreases "noise" or extraneous information the decoder is unable or not inclined to process. Media software recognizes the need to address these issues. For example, the editing and sequencing of events and information can greatly impact perception…" We all perceive and experience events… driving to the market, we experience certain perception edits…The car's engine and radio provide context, continuity, and language. Music may influence mood…When we enter a building by passing through doors, or climb a stairway or look up at a light, we change points of view." (Luskin, 1998). Not only does technology allow students to access information in non-linear format while controlling pace and duration, but it also provides a means to incorporate visual and auditory components to a lesson. This uniting of senses is referred to as "synesthetics"; the study of the uniting of the senses or the response that occurs when one sense is added to another. "Adding one sense to another facilitates an experience of higher intensity. This concept is central to stimulation strategy in media" (Luskin, 1998).
By individualizing instruction, technology promotes communication centered on the learner rather than forcing the learner to adjust to the instructor. Strategies designed to address various types of intelligences and learning styles can be incorporated into a lesson while increasing the likelihood of communicating the information in the method most likely to be received by the student.
Technology promotes dialog
Technology promotes dialog by providing students the opportunity to express opinions and communicate understanding more effectively. Communication becomes two-way rather than one-way as students incorporate technology into projects and presentations, thereby enhancing communication between student and teacher and between student and peers. An example of the interactive nature of publishing on the Internet can be found in the article "Me and my hyptertext" by Reinking. In Digress2a, Reinking introduces the author (himself) and in so doing demonstrates the authoritative nature of traditional educational communication where an "expert" imparts information to a static audience void of "democratic dialog". The less formal, but highly democratic dialog available on-line creates an environment where information is discussed, argued, and subject to question as well as revision. Reinking astutely states, "electronic reading and writing invite a much less formal, honest approach to writing, because whether authors like it or not, they are ( I am) much less remote" (Reinking, 1997).
In conclusion
Communicating about health is difficult due to the complexity, social and emotional factors surrounding health related issues, competing information, and the prevalence of misinformation (NCI, …). The ability of effective communication to increase awareness, affect attitudes, demonstrate skills, increase demand, and reinforce knowledge, attitudes, or behaviors is in keeping with the PRECEDE model of health theory and practice.
Technology provides a method of enhancing communication by creating a common frame of reference and incorporating various learning styles into lesson planning, providing inclusive communication, and promoting diaglog.
Brualdi, Amy C. (1996). Multiple Intelligences: Gardner's Theory. ERIC Digest. [On-line]. Available:

Green, Lawrence (?)………Find something

Luskin, Bernard J. (1998). Media Out of Your Mind: The Psychology of Media Production. T.H.E. Journal. [On-line]. Available:

Takahashi, Junjro. Models of Communication. Digital Media Ambience and Collaborative Research. [On-line]. Available:

National Cancer Institue. Theory at a Glance. [On-line]. Available:

National Cancer Institute. The Role of communication in Disease Prevention and Control [On-line]. Available:

Owston, R. The world-wide web: A technology to enhance teaching and learning. [On-line]. Available:

Reinking, D. My and my hyptertext: A multiple digression analysis of technology and literacy. [On-line]. Available:

Thornburg, David. (1997). 2020 Visions for the Future of Education. [On-line]. Available:

TIP Concepts. [On-line]. Available:

Twigg, Carol. (1994). The Changing Definition of Learning. [On-line]. Available:


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