Ray Boffey

  • Improving student learning through using digital lectures

    Ray Boffey, Edith Cowan University, Australia

    Paul Gerrans, Edith Cowan University, Australia

    Sophie Kennedy, Edith Cowan University, Australia

    Session 2c, Tuesday 09.00

    Research seminar

    Themes addressed:

    • Teaching methods
    • e-Learning
    • Supporting learners


    A 2004 survey of online learning concluded that, despite predictions to the contrary, online learning had not challenged the traditional on-campus learning model. The authors argued that “significant impact on an activity as complex, tradition-bound and semi-conscious as learning will take much longer to realise” (Garrett & Jokivirta, 2004, p41). Against a backdrop of evolution rather than revolution in student learning, this study explores how a group of students responded when offered digital lectures in addition to conventional face-to-face lectures.

    The style of digital lecture used in this research

    One simple way of creating a digital lecture involves a fixed camera recording a face-to-face lecture. In this study, however, each digital lecture was recorded separately from its respective face-to-face lecture. Screen capture and recording software was used to incorporate the following in the lectures: PowerPoint slides, Word and PDF documents, Excel spreadsheets, web resources, and scanned textbook images. The lecturer’s presence came through narration, screen annotations via a drawing tablet, and occasional “talking head” appearances. Moreno and Mayer’s (2000) instructional design principles were used in designing the digital lectures with the aim of maximising the learning experience for students.

    While the research explored student responses to the digital lectures and sought to determine student perceptions of the value of the digital lectures and their impact on learning activity, development of the digital lectures was intended to present students with a resource that would enhance learning. The format is supported by research in the field of cognitive science and in particular Moreno and Mayer’s (2000) theory of multimedia design which has been based on Paivio’s (1986) dual-coding theory and Baddeley’s (1998) model of the working memory.

    Modality effects in multimedia learning are typically brought about by presenting both pictures and verbal information (speech) to engage both visual and auditory processing capacity in the working memory of the learner and bring about meaningful learning. Moreno and Mayer (2002) found that “when words are presented visually and aurally, learners are able to select both pieces of information with no cognitive overload: Because visual working memory and auditory working memory work as independent processors, additional processing capacity is made available to the student when two modalities are used” (Moreno & Mayer 1999; 2002). One can therefore argue that multimedia formats used in the digital lecture add more value and should facilitate more meaningful learning than alternatives such as streaming or podcasting audio of live lectures or prepared narrative explanations.

    On the other hand, cognitive load theory posits that the capacity of working memory is limited (Chandler & Sweller, 1991), and cognitive overload has become a “red flag” in multimedia design and occurs when one of the sensory channels (visual or auditory) runs out of capacity to process incoming (new) information (Sorden, 2005).

    In designing the structure and features of the digital lectures, the authors were mindful of avoiding the known pitfalls of multimedia design, and have been guided by the pedagogical considerations set out in cognitive theory of multimedia design (Mayer & Moreno 1998; Van Merriënboer & Sweller 2005), and in particular the five principles of multimedia learning and associated effects.

    Research design

    Twelve digital lectures were provided to students enrolled in a third year undergraduate finance unit. Each lecture became available online and on CD at the same time the face-to-face lecture was delivered. Each student was free to determine which lectures they attended and which digital lectures they viewed. Following completion of the unit, an independent person conducted a survey of the students. Thirty eight students, of 52 enrolled, completed the survey.

    Research findings

    Students appeared to treat digital lectures as complements to, rather than as substitutes for, face-to-face lecture attendance. Of the total of 12 lectures, students attended an average of nine and viewed ten online or on CD. A range of positive statements about ‘student learning through digital lectures’ recorded very high mean levels of agreement. The results suggest three reasons why students made such consistent use of digital lectures and were so positive about them. Firstly, digital lectures gave students access to lecture content. Students heavily used this access in assignment preparation and final exam revision. Secondly, the ‘play’, ‘stop’, ‘pause’, ‘rewind’ controls allowed students to tailor content delivery according to their needs. Thirdly, the design of the digital lectures seemed to engage students and improve their learning.

    Conclusions and further research

    Combining digital lectures with face-to-face lectures was strongly endorsed by students and seemed to provide them with the “best of both worlds” for their learning. Further research will assess whether the positive initial results translate to large enrolment first year units, whether digital lectures lead to reduced student queries to the lecturer, and whether students from a non-English-speaking background access and use digital lectures differently.


    • Baddeley A (1998). Human memory. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
    • Chandler P, & Sweller J (1991). Cognitive load theory and the format of instruction. Cognition and Instruction, 8(4), 293-332.
    • Garrett R, & Jokivirta L (2004). Online learning in Commonwealth universities: Selected data from the 2004 Observatory survey, Part 1. London: The Observatory on Higher Education.
    • Mayer RE & Moreno R (1998). A cognitive theory of multimedia learning: Implications for design principles. In NH Naryanan (Ed). Electronic proceedings of the CHI'98 Workshop on Hyped-media to Hyper-media: Toward theoretical foundations of design, use and evaluation. Retrieved on 28th April, 2006 from www.eng.auburn.edu/~narayan/webdocs.html
    • Van Merriënboer JJG & Sweller J (2005, June). Cognitive load theory and complex learning: Recent developments and future directions. Educational Psychology Review, 17(2), 147-177.
    • Moreno R, & Mayer RE (1999). Cognitive principles of multimedia learning: The role of modality and contiguity. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 358-368.
    • Moreno R, & Mayer RE (2000). A learner-centered approach to multimedia explanations: Deriving instructional design principles from cognitive theory. Interactive Multimedia Electronic Journal of Computer-Enhanced Learning, 2(2), 1-6.
    • Moreno R & Mayer RE (2002). Verbal redundancy in multimedia learning: When reading helps listening. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 156-163.
    • Paivio A (1986). Mental representations: A dual-coding approach. New York: Oxford University Press.
    • Sorden S (2005). A cognitive approach to instructional design for multimedia learning.Informing Science Journal, 8, 263-279.