Students learn from any medium, in school or out, whether they intend to or not, whether it is intended or not that they should learn (as millions of parents will testify), providing that the content of the medium leads them to pay attention to it. Many teachers argue that learning from media is not the problem; it is hard to prevent a student from lea rning from media, and the real problem is to get him to learn what he is intended to learn. . . . Therefore, a teacher can feel a great deal of confidence that motivated students will learn from any medium if it is competently used and adapted to their needs. The existing evidence contributes to our confidence more in the media of instruction than in our ability to discriminate among them (Schramm, 1977, p. 267).
The history of research on learning and media can be characterized as developing along two distinct paths, one that examines the role of media in out-of-school environments such as the home, and one that focuses on the role of media as teaching tools within the formal classroom setting (see, for review, Hornik, 1981; Krendl, 1989). Both of these research traditions trace their origins back to the same original models and theories that introduced the study of media and audiences. This chapter presents an overview of the evolution of theoretical models and research orientations that link these two traditions and that lay the foundation for future research on learning and media. At the same time that research on learning and media has evolved and changed over time, so has the nature of the media systems examined. The media environment has changed significantly in recent years from the predominance of broadcast television as the delivery system of choice, characterized by its wide appeal to mass audiences, its one-way delivery, and its highly centralized distribution and production systems, to an environment characterized by an entirely different set of features. First, this new environment offers an increasingly wide array of technologies and combinations of technologies (cable, videotape, DBS, computer, multimedia, etc.), rather than one dominant medium (see Chapter 12 and 24.6). Second, these technologies share characteristics that are in direct contrast to the earlier era of broadcast television. That is, these delivery systems are driven by their ability to serve small, specialized audiences—a narrow-east orientation— as opposed to television’s broadcast orientation. Third, they are designed to feature high levels of user control, flexibility, and interactivity, as well as decentralized production and distribution systems. As the media environment has changed, the audience’s relationship with media has changed. Audience members now expect systems that are responsive to their unique needs and interests. As consumer expectations have changed, inflexible, one-way systems featuring limited channel and content capabilities are increasingly threatened. Flexibility, userfriendliness, content diversity, and low cost appear to be characteristics that will drive the development of future media systems. The dramatic changes in the dominant features that characterize emerging information and entertainment technologies and the blurring of the boundaries between what has traditionally been considered educational and what has traditionally been considered entertainment content suggest the need for reconsideration of the traditions, assumptions, and approaches used to study media and learning to date. Today, with the growth of “edutainment” products (products that combine elements of education and entertainment programming and are designed for use at home and at school), the traditional distinctions between research on learning in classrooms and on learning in out-of-school environments seem...