Intelligent Multimedia for Cognitive Skills Development


Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

The success of the learning process in an intelligent multimedia educational system depends on how the system presents the domain knowledge to the learner and changes its presentation in terms of complexity and granularity according to learner’s progress. Tutoring strategies are the major source of taking decisions regarding domain knowledge presentation. Adequate educational framework gives a way to create effective and efficient tutoring strategies for a given domain. Many researchers have emphasised the need of suitable educational framework in the use of multimedia technology in educational systems.

Adams et al. (1996) emphasised that educational software is not only a teaching and learning resource, but also a carrier of instructional strategies. Therefore, the design of such system and its presentation should consider learning theories and concepts, the pedagogies that apply to those concepts, and how they impact instruction design and practice.

Pham (1997) pointed out that many multimedia based educational systems in current existence have placed too much emphasis on the affective and psychomotor aspects and lured the learner by using spectacular effects provided by images, animations, video and sound. In such systems, the emphasis has shifted from adequate learning outcomes and cognitive development, and the goal of knowledge acquisition seems to have diluted.

Palmiter et al. (1991) warned that it should not be assumed simply because a visual component is present, that the instructions will be coded into long-term memory. Pham (1997) concerned that little considerations have been given to the cognitive, pedagogical and psychological aspects of learning while designing multimedia based educational systems. He emphasised that a good educational multimedia system must not forget educational objectives while taking advantages of advance technology.

Multimedia technology can contribute to the success of learning only if it can adequately represent the tasks and concepts of domain. Rheingold (1990) recommended that the multimedia presentation should also be capable of supporting the goals of the system.

Multimedia and cognitive skills

The use of multimedia objects, such as pictures, animations and simulations, in an educational system can enhance the efficacy of the system to a great extent in facilitating cognitive skills besides other components of domain competence. Various multimedia objects may facilitate various requirements of different learning tasks. For example, animations are suitable for directed instruction, simulations for discovery or exploratory learning, and flowcharts for learning of decision-making processes. However, just the collection and integration of multimedia objects in a system does not guarantee adequate learning (Rogers et al., 1995). Cartwright (1994) recommended that the educational systems should be more functional as a result of using many graphical elements and not a confused mess due to overused graphic devices. Another important aspect in the provision of successful learning is the proper interaction of the learner with the interface components, especially when learning is recognised as a complex activity (or process) that combines various factors such as information retrieval, target location, navigation, and memorisation (Dillon, 1996).

In the area of cognitive skills, the use of various multimedia objects in a suitable educational framework may satisfy different learning needs that arise at different stages of cognitive skills acquisition. Cognitive Apprenticeship framework (Collins, Brown & Newman, 1989) provides one such effective path (see Quinn, 1997; Gibbons, 1996 & Clark, 1997). The Cognitive Apprenticeship framework has major focus on cognitive skills though it also facilitates domain knowledge and physical skills. Therefore it is suitable for acquisition of domain competence in task-oriented disciplines where cognitive skills remain major focus in the learning process. According to the Cognitive Apprenticeship framework:

  • the learners can study task solving patterns of experts to develop their own cognitive model of the domain, i.e. about the tasks, tools and solutions (modelling);

  • the learners can solve tasks on their own by consulting a tutorial component (coaching);

  • the tutoring activity of the system is gradually reduced with the learners’ improving performances and problem solving (fading).

Typically a learner starts the learning process by observing a particular task in the system as it would be carried out by the master (or subject expert) and then tries to imitate the task. If the results of the trial are not correct or are sub-optimal, the system assists the learner in finding the areas of mistakes and sub-optimalities. If necessary, the learner can again observe the master’s approach and since the re-observation is a result of a query from the learner, the depth of details grasped by the learner from the observation are increased many folds.

Once the learner has successfully imitated the task, the system provides opportunity to repeat the task in different scenarios so that the learner can get mastery in the task. The repetition process also facilitates the abstraction of the concepts related to the task and helps the learner to apply the abstracted concepts in situated scenarios.

Various tasks and stages of cognitive apprenticeship framework have different requirements from learning point of view and consequently they need different multimedia objects for learner’s interaction with the domain content. Following section considers the suitability of various multimedia objects for educational systems incorporating cognitive apprenticeship framework.

Multimedia objects and cognitive apprenticeship framework

The first step in the cognitive apprenticeship is the observation phase, where the learner observes the task pattern of an expert. Within a system, realisation of receptive exploration is possible through text reading, observing a picture, watching a video or animation (Payne et al., 1992), and listening to audio clips. Once the learner has basic understanding and is motivated for further complex observations, the system can provide the opportunity through sensitive parts in pictures (image maps), user controlled animations, interactive videos and pictorial virtual reality (VR) scenarios, where the learner actively engages in the observation process.

After the observation phase, the learner is required to imitate the observed tasks to get skills. Simulations and interactive flowcharts can provide the learner with adaptive environment where learner can imitate the tasks under system’s expert guidance. The progress in skill development and retention can then be measured in problem solving scenarios and assessment phase where all of the above mentioned multimedia objects would play their role as and when needed. Once the basic skills are acquired, the competence can be achieved by the learner through repetitive training using practice simulations and flowcharts in different contextual scenarios. Such training would also help in generalising the acquired competence to be able to use it in unfamiliar situations.

Table 1 summarises the above discussion by presenting examples of multimedia objects suitable for different tasks under cognitive apprenticeship framework.

 Requirement Example of suitable multimedia objects
Observation (receptive) Text, Static pictures, Animations, Video, Audio
Observation (active) Image maps, User controlled animations, Textual links, Interactive videos, pictorial VR
Exploration (Imitation) Simulations, Flowcharts
Feedback (immediate) All above components in problem solving
Evaluation (delayed feedback) All above components in assessment mode
Practice (repetition) Practice simulations and flowcharts for different scenarios
Transfer in real life Authoring tools using various multimedia objects
Co-operation in work context Authoring tools and communication tools using various multimedia objects

Table 1. Tasks in cognitive skills acquisition and related multimedia objects



There has not been much consideration of use of multimedia technology in the educational systems with the view of educational theories. This paper suggested one such consideration for cognitive apprenticeship educational framework. Research is continued to extend the scope of the work to other areas such as socratic dialogues, guided discovery and so on.