9.1 The “Media Debate”

silhouette of two men debating

In 1983 Dr. Richard Clark published a literature review (Clark, 1983) where he concluded that “media do not influence learning under any conditions” (p. 445). He believed media were “mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition” (1983, p. 445). At the time he recommended that researchers stop doing media comparison studies. By media comparison studies Clark meant research that compares whether learning with new technologies (e.g., computers) differs from learning using more traditional methods (e.g., books, pencil, paper, etc.). Instead of studying the medium itself, Clark encouraged researchers to shift their focus to observing attitudes towards computers and the enjoyment of learning with technology.

Ten years later, the journal Educational Technology Research and Development devoted a special issue to a debate between Clark and Robert Kozma, who focused more on the future potential of evolving technology and media. Kozma (1994) argued that instead of considering the question settled, researchers should continue to explore ways that media might influence learning, saying, “If there is no relationship between media and learning it may be because we have not yet made one” (p. 7). Clark (1994) maintained his original view, arguing that studies claiming to find benefits from media were confounded by different teaching methods: “Media and their attributes have important influences on the cost or speed of learning but only the use of adequate instructional methods will influence learning” (Clark, 1994, p. 27).

While other researchers took up the debate, and the costs and benefits of technology have shifted as technology tools evolved, the argument has not been definitively resolved in the field. As someone engaged with or interested in the educational technology field, you are encouraged to read the original articles (shown in the reference at the end of this chapter) and then reflect on your own view. Do you think media can or does influence learning? Why or why not?

You might also be interested in viewing this one-hour AECT “history makers” interview with Richard Clark:


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Foundations of Educational Technology Copyright © 2017 by Penny Thompson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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