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< Contents ERCIM News No. 62, July 2005
SPECIAL THEME: Multimedia Informatics

Interactive Multimedia-Enabled Learning and Training

by Claire Kenny, Declan McMullen, Mark Melia and Claus Pahl

Multimedia technology is an ideal platform to support advanced forms of learning and training. Active learning, for instance, requires a high degree of interactivity in different forms - for which multimedia technology provides an infrastructure solution. The IDLE system - an interactive educational multimedia system supporting database learning and training - shall illustrate the benefits and supporting architectures for multimodal, interactive learning and training.

Database learning, like many other topics in various disciplines, requires an understanding of foundational concepts combined with skills that can only be obtained in a realistic environment. As part of the INVITE project — INfrastructures for VIrtual Teaching and learning Environments – at the School of Computing at Dublin City University, we have developed a range of interactive multimedia features in an integrated environment – called IDLE – to support active database learning and training. IDLE, the Interactive Database Learning Environment, is a Web-based, multimodal educational media environment used in undergraduate teaching for more than five years.

An Educational Multimedia Architecture
Interactive multimedia features have to structure and guide the learner’s access to educational content. Learning technology systems need to communicate content in the most appropriate form to a learner. Multimedia ideally suits these requirements. Learning content is a collection of stored media resources that presents the learner with different views and activities relating to the central concepts of the subject domain. At the core of the learning environment is a multimedia delivery systems that allows the learner to access content resources and to interact with content in the most appropriate, educationally sound way. The figure shows the multimedia architecture of IDLE. The main architectural elements are:

  • content resources, eg spoken and written words enhanced by images, moving pictures, or active objects
  • delivery infrastructure and media players, eg basic Web browser functionality (hypertext), audio player (audio stream), animation player (animations), advanced Web browser and server functionality (active, dynamic pages using applets, HTML forms, or servlets).
The IDLE Multimedia Architecture.
The IDLE Multimedia Architecture.

Educational Multimedia Design
Concepts are at the centre of organising educational content. Usually, various perspectives on the presentation of concepts in content exist in terms of the learning and training context. Aspects such as declarative or factual knowledge, procedural knowledge, and skills form these perspectives. All three perspectives can be related to the same concept. For example, learning about database queries requires an understanding of the conceptual relational data model background and the operational aspects of query execution as well as trained skills in query formulation and execution. These different perspectives arise from the different learner objectives in relation to a given concept:

  • for declarative knowledge such as data model definitions presented through synchronised audio and hypertext, learning objectives include abstraction, comprehension, and reasoning
  • for procedural knowledge such as query execution presented through sequenced individual animations, controlled observation is a means to understand the operational aspects
  • or skills such a query definition and formulation presented through applet- and servlet-supported active Web pages, execution and manipulation with feedback are paramount.

Consequently, the learning and training requires different forms of interaction of learners with content.

Multimodality is one of the central characteristics of comprehensive learning technology systems that enable a successful learning experience and support learning objectives. A multimodal media architecture is needed to support these learner objectives, ie, to facilitate the corresponding learning activities. We can associate learning activities and suitable multimedia modalities and channels. Abstraction, comprehension, and reasoning is usually enabled through spoken and written language, ie using audio and text media. Controlled observation is based on a visual learning experience using moving pictures or animations in a computer-supported learning environment. Execution and manipulation can be supported through an (almost) tactile form, where virtual objects are manipulated. Different media types in learning technology systems such as IDLE enable interactivity in order to support successful active learning.

Authoring of Interactive Educational Multimedia
The importance of multimedia in learning and training requires a systematic Interactive Educational Multimedia (IEMM) engineering approach. Learning and training activities need to be mapped to the human-computer interface and implemented through multimedia features. Due to the complexity of the domain, the design of channels and interaction languages is ideally supported in a domain-specific framework. We have used education-specific channels – such as declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge, skills, learning sequencing, feedback, and coaching – as domain-specific channels in the design of IDLE and other learning technology systems. Each of the channels is different in the way learners use and work with the content that is communicated over the channels.

The benefits of a multimodal learning experience that enables a variety of content interactions are undisputed. The complexity of designing these experiences and authoring IEMM content requires a domain-specific approach using educational channel notions as abstractions and particular media types to enable certain learner-content interactions. Only such a development and authoring approach will help to reduce the high development costs associated with educational content development and to make multimedia learning objects more reusable.

Please contact:
Claus Pahl, Dublin City University, School of Computing / Irish Universities Consortium
Tel: +353 1 700 5620