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Communication and Learning

Donald G. Perrin

Communication is the transmission of messages from a source to receiver by means of a common language. The message is encoded, transmitted across a channel, and decoded. Early man communicated through sounds, gestures, and pictures. These became the basis of spoken language, pictographs, and hieroglyphics. By the fourth millennium BC, ancient civilizations had some form of written communication. Their messages have been recorded on cave walls, clay tablets, papyrus, and paper. In the fourteenth century, the printing press became a force to communicate knowledge to the masses. The body of recorded knowledge grew exponentially in volume and accessibility. Each new generation now benefits from the learning and discoveries of its predecessors.

Nineteenth century technologies such as photography, lantern slides, telegraph, telephone, sound recording, motion pictures, Nipkov disk, and radio provided the foundation for audiovisual and television communication. World War II provided research on how people learn, and how best to design instructional materials using text, audio, graphics, images and motion pictures.

In the second half of the twentieth century, research focused on combinations of media (multimedia), feedback (language laboratory and teaching machines); video with audio feedback (ITFS, broadcast TV, satellite TV, and two way video); interactive multi-media (programmed learning, teaching machines, and computers); and applications of gaming, simulation, and artificial intelligence. In many instances, technology developed for business, military, and entertainment was adapted for training and education.

In this third millennium of formal instruction (assuming Plato and Socrates were the first), lightning fast digital technologies including computers and the Internet, global databases fueled by the explosion of knowledge, with ubiquitous and powerful search engines such as Google, create new options for research, instructional design, and management of teaching and learning.

Research continues to identify crucial design elements for effective teaching and learning. It began with simplistic concepts such as concrete vs. abstract learning (Dale’s Cone of Experience), single and multi-sensory learning (see, hear, multimedia, feedback); participation and interactivity (collaboration, gaming, simulation, real-life experience); and inherent characteristics of the content, learner, teacher, environment, and communication process. Current developments include the design of learning objects, building blocks to customize learning based on individual needs. . Reusable learning objects (LOs) can be continually improved based on actual experience.  Add to this a learning management system and you have just multiplied the tutorial capacity of your educational system by a factor of ten or more.

So where is this leading us? To diagnostic/prescriptive methods instruction that optimize the intellectual development and growth of every student. These technologies can achieve our educational goals within existing staffing levels and budgets. They may be the only option to enhance quality in this period of budget reduction.

LMSs and LOs supplement rather than replace a human teacher. The teacher becomes the learning manager – researcher, designer, trouble-shooter, and tutor in situations where a student needs additional help. Communication and learning go hand in hand, and the Information Age has provided many new tools to enhance motivation and learning.

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