Does Music in Web-Based Training Promote Instruction?

Visual and Graphic Design
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As the world of multimedia becomes ever more varied and complex, in the realm of custom courseware we attempt to appeal to all different kinds of learners as well as compete with the likes of HD television and 3D video games. But when it comes to interactive elearning development, does more multimedia equate with more effective instruction? In particular, would it benefit the learner to use music more often in web-based training?

Sharon Guan of DePaul University suggests, “…media redundancy distracts learners. It adds unnecessary workload (extraneous cognitive load) to the brain, leaving less room for it to process the information. So, instructional designers who are constantly tempted by various fancy tech tools ought to remember that making things simple and direct remains the rule of thumb.” So it seems that music or even an overload of multimedia could be considered a distraction rather than a tool to aid learning.

In addition, Dr. Dolf Zilmann (1994) a noted scholar in the field of communications noted the following:

The evidence concerning the use of music in educational efforts is most
discouraging. Surely, as we have shown, music can help to attract [learners] to
the educational message (in selected situations). But once they are exposed, the
presence of music is detrimental to learning. That’s what the experimental
research tells us. The findings are very consistent, showing that it is sweet
illusion for educators to think that music could further the learning process.
Music is a message that competes with educational information for attention, and
it usually wins contest.

At Allen, we often use music, animation, and graphics at the beginning of a course to attract the learner’s attention and give the course some movement and innovation. According to Zilmann, this is an effective way to use music in particular.

On the other hand, S. Ruth Harris states that music can create and activate prior knowledge, focus a learner’s attention, function as a mnemonic device to aid recall of information, and foster a positive attitude towards learning.

It seems that the key to using music to enhance learning is to ensure that the learner’s entire focus can be dedicated to listening to it and that it is the primary means for instruction. When it competes with other sensory information, the learner can experience overload and it can inhibit learning. But when done right, music can enhance content, illicit emotion, and engage the learner in a way nothing else can.

We have a real opportunity (in web-based training in particular) to branch into all forms of multimedia, especially music, and utilize its power to enhance learners’ engagement and overall experience. The challenge is to use it effectively and give it sufficient focus.

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  1. this is a interesting aspect for learning, i believe there is a lot which music can do for the content while multimedia show is going on. It certainly is a great enabler and may be music adds to concentration while one goes thru the animation or text.