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Evaluating Multimedia
by Terrell L. Perry, Ed. D.

 
   
 
   

So you’ve made the decision to use multimedia as part of your overall training strategy.  You can take the low cost route and purchase generic off-the-shelf products, or you can expend more of your training budget on your own development.  But do you know how to tell the difference between high quality multimedia and multimedia that is substandard (it may do the job but not as well)? 

What Does Research Tell Us?

Studies have shown that students using multimedia have higher achievement/performance ratings, higher retention, are given more consistent content, and they do it all in less time.  The reasons given for these improvements include:

Multi-sensory input

  • Self-paced learner control over the educational process
  • One-on-one individualized training support
  • Immediate interaction and feedback
  • Constant, highly effective reinforcement of concepts and content
  • Better researched, organized, and more succinctly presented content
  • Greater attention to accuracy, detail, and completeness of content
  • Learner mastery of content before continuing to next unit/level
  • Accessibility to, and repeated interaction with, material
  • More opportunity to apply what has been learned

What Do the Professionals Think?

Professionals in the field of training look at a number of different characteristics to determine if a multimedia training product will be effective or not.  Criteria for evaluating multimedia or Internet-based training are shown in the table below.

Table 1.  Criteria for Evaluating Multimedia Used by Professionals.

1. Is the course easy to install, set up, or access on an Internet or Intranet server using standard Internet or network protocols?  Does it run properly?  
2. Does the program include a sufficient amount and quality of information?  
3. Does the program educate, inform, and provide insight to the viewer?  
4. Is the content technically and factually accurate for the subject, discipline, or industry to which it is related?  
5. Are scenarios, simulations, or exercises realistic to the actual job tasks or conditions?  
6. Does the program enhance the instruction/delivery of the subject matter?  
7. Do the direction, sound, editing, and photography work together and work consistently with the information to engage the viewer completely in the program?  
8. Does the course present students with an overview that describes the purpose of the course, who will benefit from taking the course, and provide tips on how to successfully use the courseware?  
9. Does the course address an overview, outline, and learning objectives for its various segments?  
10. Is the course designed in such a way that ensures users will learn?  
11. Does the course present core competencies, performance standards, learning objectives, learning activities and assessment activities to students in an easy-to-use, intuitive interface?  
12. Are learning activities student-friendly and directly related to the core competencies, performance standards and learning objectives of the courseware?  
13. Are learning assessments student-friendly and directly related to the core competencies, performance standards-expectations (competencies), learning objectives and learning activities of the courseware?  Are students shown the relationship between performance and the learning objectives?  
14. Does the course present syllabus information such as: grading/certification policy, expectations for participation, due dates for assessments, and protocol for interaction between instructor/ facilitator and students (and students and other students)?  
15. Does the course provide for instructor/facilitator/mentor feedback to student (and student-to-student feedback)?  
16. Does the program capture the viewer’s interest and spark discussion?  
17. Does the program engage the student through novelty, humor, gaming, testing/quizzing, discovery-adventure, and unique or surprise elements?  
18. Does the program effectively and appropriately use media such as video, animation, music, narration, sound effects, and special visual effects?  
19. Is the program designed for the intended audience?  
20. Does it avoid being condescending, trite, pedantic, or too “cute”?  
21. Are the reading and educational levels appropriate to the audience?  
22. Do course materials communicate directly and consistently with the student, using the second person?  
23. Is the program attractive and appealing to the eye and ear?  
24. Are there large variations in volume between sound elements?  
25. Are there large variations in quality between the various graphics, animations, or motion video elements?  
26. Does the user have ample opportunity to engage program elements through their own input?  
27. Does the program encourage just-in-time learning, question-answer, and problem-solution problem solving?  
28. Does the course include and support learning activities that teach students, not just test them (“discovery learning”)?  
29. Does the course include a significant amount of practice activities for students?  
30. Does the course include interactive learning aids, such as glossary and performance checklist tools?  
31. Can users determine their own path through the program?  
32. Does the course present clear, user-friendly instructions to the student regarding navigation in the multimedia learning environment?  
33. Is there appropriate use of icons and/or clear labels so that users don’t have to read excessively or take tutorials to determine program options?  
34. Is some type of evaluation used?  
35. Does the course include performance assessment tasks with a supporting scoring guide?  
36. Is mastery of each section’s content advised before student proceeds to the next sections?  
37. Does the course use section quizzes (student self-checks or progress reviews) with appropriate feedback?  
38. Is there a pre-test and/or final exam?  
39. Is demonstrated performance required?  
40. Does the student get a different assessment experience if the activities are repeated? (That is, are assessments programmed to randomize, or vary based on performance?)  
41. Are student performance data recorded, such as time to complete, question analysis, and final scores?  
42. Is the data forwarded to the course manager automatically?  
43. Are report printouts available?  
44. Is information delivered in a clear, interesting, and/or innovative way?  
45. Does the course include a variety of learning media, such as text, graphic organizers, diagrams, graphics, charts, job aids, video and audio clips?  
46. Does the course provide for innovative approaches to teaching and learning?  

A Word about Games

Many people make the mistake of evaluating multimedia training as they would a multimedia game.  To compare multimedia training to a game is like comparing apples to oranges.  They’re both fruit (I mean multimedia), but that’s where the comparison ends.  Here are some of the criteria used for evaluating games.

  • Can the user easily understand the goal of the game?
  • Do you compete for points, against time, to uncover facts, or for something else?
  • Are the images used (graphics, motion video, animations) realistic and true to life?
  • If the game is based on a real life activity, is it realistic and accurate to the activity?
  • Is the game’s user interface intuitive and easy to use without an instruction manual?
  • Does it use facts, statistics, reference material, or tools that are used in the actual activity?
  • Does functionality (the way the game works) change relative to adjustments made by the user?  For example, adjustments made to game settings from statistics, reference material, or tools.
  • Is the basic plot or premise of the game sophisticated enough to maintain user interest, but not too complicated to play and enjoy?
  • Can progress in the game be saved and continued at a later date?  Can it be played over time?
  • Is it a game played by an individual, against/with other players, or both?

Multimedia training is often slighted for not being as exciting and as fun to play as games.  But the outcome of multimedia training is to take, not play, a program that will enable the user to do something new or do something correctly.  Games, on the other hand, have only to entertain with no requirement to train or teach.  Some of the other notable differences are shown in the table below.

Table 2.  Multimedia Training-Game Comparison.

Category
Multimedia Training
Multimedia Game
Purpose To teach/train/educate to specific learning objectives To entertain with or without a goal
Basis Usually based on real-life tasks or conditions May be based on real life or fantasy
Desired Outcome Tries to change behavior; show learning gain Tries to entertain and let the user have fun 
Orientation Logically outlines and arranges content; Uses interconnected linear segments Often uses free-play ; Usually non-linear in structure
Image Quality Places less value in realism of graphics, animations, video Places extremely high value in realism of graphics, animations, video
User Interface Takes less liberty with program icons and navigation Takes much more liberty with program icons and navigation
Use of Competition Less use of negative reinforcement and punishment; Greater use of feedback to shape desired behavior Greater use of negative reinforcement and punishment; Greater use of win or lose model 
Reliance on Accuracy Has a greater requirement for content to be technically accurate Less of a need or requirement for technical accuracy of content; Greater need for an accurate “look and feel” of play

What should you look for?

Evaluators should keep two important considerations in mind when evaluating a multimedia training product.  First, even though we would all like to make the learning experience as entertaining, fun, and painless as possible, our primary goal is to teach individuals to perform a job, task, or activities properly and safely.  Second, all multimedia training is not created equal.  Some products are more effective than others.  The following checklist provides questions to ask when evaluating a multimedia training product.  The more questions that you can answer yes to, the higher the quality of the product.

Table 3.  Multimedia Training Evaluation Checklist.

CATEGORY   CRITERIA  
Installation 1. Is the course easy to install and set up?  
Content      
Treatment of the Subject Matter 2. Does the program include a sufficient amount and quality of information to educate, inform, and provide insight to the learner?  Does it enhance the instruction/delivery of the subject matter?  
Technical Accuracy 3. Is the content technically and factually accurate for the subject or discipline to which it is related?  
Technical Quality 4. Do the direction, sound, editing, and photography work together and work consistently with the information?  
Instructional Principles      
Audience Identification 5. Does the program describe who will benefit from taking the course and provide tips on how to successfully use the courseware?  
Performance Objectives 6. Does the course present an overview that describes the purpose of the course, the course outline, and learning objectives?  
Instructional Strategies 7. Does the course present core competencies, performance standards, learning objectives, learning activities and assessment activities to students in an easy-to-use, clear interface?  
  8. Are learning activities easy to understand, and do they teach what the learning objectives say they will teach?
  9. Are course questions, quizzes, and tests easy to understand, and do they test what the learning objectives say they will tests?  
Support Aids 10. Does the course present summary information such as grading/certification policy, expectations for participants, due dates for assessments, and protocol for interaction between instructor/facilitator/mentor and students, and between students and other students?  
Motivation 11. Does the program capture interest and engage the student through novelty, humor, gaming, testing/quizzing, and discovery-adventure elements?  
Use of Media 12. Is the media selected for the program - video, animation, music, narration, sound effects, and special visual effects - effectively and appropriately used?  
Tone 13. Do course materials communicate directly and consistently with the student?  Does it avoid being condescending, trite, bookish, and too cutesy?  
  14. Is the program properly designed for the intended audience?  Is the reading grade and educational level appropriate for the audience?  
Aesthetics 15. Is the program attractive and appealing to the eye and ear?  (Or are there large variations among similar media types, i.e., volume differences between sound elements or quality differences between graphics, animations, or motion videos?)  
Interactivity 16. Does the user have ample opportunity to engage program elements through their own input?  
  17. Does the program encourage just-in-time learning, question-answer problem solving, and learning activities that teach by questioning students, not just by questioning for evaluation?  
  18. Does the course include a significant amount of practice activities for the student?  
  19. Does the course include interactive learning aids such as glossary, word search and performance checklist tools?  
Navigation 20. Can students determine their own course through the program?  
  21. Does the program present clear, user-friendly instructions to students regarding navigation in the program?  Is there an appropriate use of icons and/or clear labels so that learners don’t have to read excessively or take tutorials to determine program options?  
Performance Assessment/ Evaluation 22. Are section quiz, pre-test and final exam evaluations with appropriate feedback used?  Is demonstrated performance required?  
  23. Is mastery of each section’s content advised before proceeding to the next section(s)?  
  24. Does the student get a different assessment experience if the activities are repeated? (Does the user get different questions/exercises presented in different ways each time?)  
Record Keeping 25. Are student performance data recorded and printable?  
Creativity 26. Is information delivered in a clear, interesting, and/or innovative way?  Are innovative approaches to teaching and learning used?  
  27. Does the course include a variety of learning media, such as text, graphic organizers, diagrams, graphics, charts, job aids, video and audio clips?  

Multimedia training should embody the principles of how adults learn.  Although many of the principles and techniques from classroom instruction are appropriate for multimedia training, many are not, and should be replaced by more effective methods that better fit the adult learner and the interactive computer environment.


     
   
     
   

The Author

 

Dr. Terrell Perry has taught CBT developer courses for industry and academia. He has developed more than 246 CBT/WBT courses, covering basic and master scuba diving and responsible hunting curricula, among others. He has also created several major projects for the United States Navy. 

Currently, Dr. Perry is a senior instructional systems designer with W R Systems, Ltd. in Norfolk, VA, and an adjunct professor at Boise State University, Department of Instructional & Performance Technology (graduate programs). He is a consultant for Coastal Training Technologies Corp. and numerous other organizations.

     
   
     
   
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