The Great Media Debate - Kozma vs Clark

There has been much debate over whether or not particular media influence learning. This has special relevance for users of electronic texts.

Research on the influence of media on learning has been a topic of educators since Thorndike (1912) recommended pictures as a labor-saving device in instruction.The hope in this research is to increase learning through the right combination of media, subject matter, and learner characteristics.The debate between Richard Clark and Robert Kozma on this subject is well-known is the annals of media comparison.Other researchers who have contributed to the debate include Grabowski (1989),Lumsdaine (1963), Glaser and Cooley (193), Levie and Dickie (1973), Mielke (1968), Schramm (1977) and Schultz (1988). 

The Clark-Kozma debate begin in the Winter of 1983 with Clark's article "Reconsidering Research on Learning from Media."In this article, Clark persuasively argues that there are "no learning benefits to be gained from employing any specific medium to deliver instruction." Based on a meta-analysis of existing research on media comparison studies, Clark concludes that media are merely delivery vehicles for instruction and do not directly influence learning.In an eloquent delivery truck analogy Clark states that "media are 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.Basically, the choice of vehicle might influence the cost or extent of distributing instruction, but only the content of the vehicle can influence achievement."Where learner gains have been found, Clark presents compelling rival hypotheses.These hypotheses include: (1) instructional method or content differences between treatments that are compared, (2) a novelty effect for newer media, which tends to disappear over time, and (3) editorial decision and distortion of effect estimates.Other researcher Clark makes note of in this article include: (1) Glaser and Cooley (1973) who were cautious about media comparison studies and suggested the use of any acceptable medium to deliver instruction, (2) Levie and Dickie (1973) who said that most media comparison studies to date had been fruitless, and (3) Mielke (1968) who found that media comparison studies, regardless of the media employed, tend to find "no significant difference."In the end, Clark calls for a halt to media comparison research.

Robert Kozma responded to Clark's article with his 1991 article "Learning with Media."Kozma argues that symbol systems and processing capabilities unique to different media can be used to complement characteristics of the learner to promote high achievement.He refutes Clark's claim that it is the methods that affect learning and not the medium by arguing the strong relationship between the two and ability of a medium to enable or constrain the methods. He concludes that "some students will learn a particular task regardless of the delivery device.Other will be able to take advantage of a particular medium's characteristics to help construct knowledge." If we look a little further back into the literature, Kozma's stance is along the same lines as McLuhan (1962, 1964) said "the medium is the message."

Round 2.In 1994, Clark undaunted by Kozma's counter punches, responded emphatically with the article "Media Will Never Influence Learning."In response to Kozma's claim that certain "media attributes" can be used by learners to shade the development of unique "cognitive processes" that can increase learning, Clark contents that there is strong evidence that many very different media attributes can accomplish the same learning goal.He puts this forth to his colleagues as the media "replaceability" challenge.If the media can be replaced by another and achieve the same goals, then we must choose the more cost effective one, Clark states.He also continues to hold to his belief that it is the methods, not the medium, that influences learning.

In that same year Kozma (1994) reframed his argument in the article "Will Media Influence Learning?Reframing the Debate."Kozma argues that perhaps the question is not do media influence learning, but will media influence learning.Obviously, this is call to continue the research on the learning benefits of different media.He is hopeful that with the rapid pace of technology change currently being experienced new mediums will introduce powerful, new symbol systems, processing capabilities and methods that more closely match the mental representations we need to learn.Kozma views seem closely aligned with a cognitive-constructivist philosophy of learning.