Browsing Category

Media & Technology Theories

Online Collaborative Learning Theory (Harasim)

Summary: Online collaborative learning theory, or OCL, is a form of constructivist teaching that takes the form of instructor-led group learning online. In OCL, students are encouraged to collaboratively solve problems through discourse instead of memorizing correct answers. The teacher plays a crucial role as a facilitator as well as a member of the knowledge community under study.

Originators and Key Contributors:

Linda Harasim, professor at the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, developed online collaborative learning theory (OCL) in 2012[1]from a theory originally called computer-mediated communication (CMC), or networked learning[2][3][4].

Keywords: collaborative learning, internet, virtual classroom, e-learning, discourse, constructivism


E-Learning Theory (Mayer, Sweller, Moreno)

E-learning theory consists of cognitive science principles that describe how electronic educational technology can be used and designed to promote effective learning.


The researchers started from an understanding of cognitive load theory to establish the set of principles that compose e-learning theory. Cognitive load theory refers to the amount of mental effort involved in working memory, and these amounts are categorized into three categories: germane, intrinsic, and extraneous[1].

Germane cognitive load describes the effort involved in understanding a task and accessing it or storing it in long-term memory (for example, seeing an essay topic and understanding what you are being asked to write about). Intrinsic cognitive load refers to effort involved in performing the task itself (actually writing the essay). Extraneous cognitive load is any effort imposed by the way that the task is delivered (having to find the correct essay topic on a page full of essay topics).

Key Concepts

Mayer, Moreno, Sweller, and their colleagues established e-learning design principles that are focused on minimizing extraneous cognitive load and introducing germane and intrinsic loads at user-appropriate levels[2][3][4][5][6]. These include the following empirically established principles:

Multimedia principle (also called the Multimedia Effect)

Using any two out of the combination of audio, visuals, and text promote deeper learning than using just one or all three.

Modality principle

Learning is more effective when visuals are accompanied by audio narration versus onscreen text. There are exceptions for when the learner is familiar with the content, is not a native speaker of the narration language, or when printed words are the only things presented on screen. Another exception to this is when the learner needs to use the material as reference and will be going back to the presentation repeatedly.

Coherence principle

The less that learners know about the presentation content, the more they will be distracted by unrelated content. Irrelevant video, music, graphics, etc. should be cut out to reduce cognitive load that might happen through learning unnecessary content. Learners with some prior knowledge, however, might have increased motivation and interest with unrelated content.

    Contiguity principle

    Learning is more effective when relevant information is presented closely together. Relevant text should be placed close to graphics, and feedback and responses should come closely to any answers that the learner gives.

    Segmenting principle

    More effective learning happens when learning is segmented into smaller chunks. Breaking down long lessons and passages into shorter ones helps promote deeper learning.

    Signaling principle

    Using arrows or circles, highlighting, and pausing in speech are all effective methods of signaling important aspects of the lesson. It is also effective to end a lesson segment after releasing important information.

    Learner control principle

    For most learners, being able to control the rate at which they learn helps them learn more effectively. Having just play and pause buttons can help more than having an array of controls (back, forward, play, pause). Advanced learners may benefit from having the lesson play automatically with the ability to pause when they choose.

    Personalization principle

    A tone that is more informal and conversational, conveying more of a social presence, helps promote deeper learning. Beginning learners may benefit from a more polite tone of voice, while learners with prior knowledge may benefit from a more direct tone of voice. Computer characters can help reinforce content by narrating the lesson, pointing out important features, or illustrating examples for the learner.

    Pre-training principle

    Introducing key content concepts and vocabulary before the lesson can aid deeper learning. This principle seems to apply more to low prior knowledge learners versus high prior knowledge learners.

    Redundancy principle

    Having graphics explained by both audio narration and on-screen text creates redundancy. The most effective method is to use either audio narration or on-screen text to accompany visuals.

    Expertise effect

    Instructional methods that are helpful to low prior knowledge learners may not be helpful at all, or may even be detrimental, to high prior knowledge learners.

Additional Resources and References



  1. Mayer, R. E., & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational psychologist, 38(1), 43-52.
  2. Mayer, R. E. (1997). Multimedia learning: Are we asking the right questions?.Educational psychologist, 32(1), 1-19.
  3. Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. (2007). Interactive multimodal learning environments. Educational Psychology Review, 19(3), 309-326.
  4. Low, R., & Sweller, J. (2005). The modality principle in multimedia learning.The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning, 147, 158.
  5. Mayer, R. E. (2003). Elements of a science of e-learning. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 29(3), 297-313.
  6. Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). E-learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. John Wiley & Sons.

Online Disinhibition Effect (Suler)

Summary: The online disinhibition effect describes the loosening of social restrictions and inhibitions that are normally present in face-to-face interactions that takes place in interactions on the Internet.

Originators and Key Contributors: In 2004, John Suler, professor of psychology at Rider University, published an article titled “The Online Disinhibition Effect," which analyzed characteristics of internet interactions that contributed to this effect[1]. The term “online disinhibition effect" was already in use at the time.

Keywords: online, internet, anonymity, invisibility, imagination, disinhibition


Also check out:

Intrinsically motivating instruction (Malone)

Summary: Intrinsically motivating instruction takes place in computer gaming software when it provides players with choice around three key categories: challenge, curiosity, and fantasy.

Originators and Key Contributors: Thomas W. Malone

Keywords: challenge, choice, computer games, curiosity, fantasy, intrinsic motivation

Intrinsically Motivating Instruction

In trying to understand what made computer-based learning environments (CBLEs) fun and engaging, Dr. Thomas W. Malone studied computer games[1]. In doing so, Malone developed a theory of intrinsically motivating instruction. The three categories which comprise his theory are challenge, fantasy, and curiosity[2].

Challenge: Each challenge must have a series of goals, which can be personally meaningful to the player and/or may be generated by the game to keep the player engaged. The game provides the player feedback on progress toward the goal throughout the game play. Because the computer game’s outcome is uncertain, this keeps the player engaged and motivated. When a player is challenged and succeeds through the struggle, a player’s self-esteem can increase, as long as the computer game’s feedback is constructive and supports learning. An optimal challenge should be neither too difficult nor too easy.

Fantasy: Malone defines fantasy as the “mental images" the players create based on interacting with the environment. The most effective fantasies in computer games are those which are more fully integrated with the content to be learned (intrinsic). Incorporating intrinsic fantasies creates more engagement, which increases memory of the material, because they may satisfy players’ emotional needs and help them learn skills within a meaningful context. (An example that Malone describes is an Adventure game where players practice reading maps, writing instructions, and feeling excited, puzzled, and triumphant as they proceed through it.)

[sociallocker]Curiosity: Two types of curiosity are important to successful computer game creation—sensory and cognitive. Sensory curiosity is activated by the aesthetics of the game (its look, sounds, feedback, authentic creation of a world or event). Cognitive curiosity is activated by presenting opportunities for the player to better their knowledge.[/sociallocker]

When a computer game is designed based on this framework, players are more motivated to play and learn[3].


  1. Malone, T. W. (1981). Toward a theory of intrinsically motivating instruction. Cognitive Science, 5(4), 333-369.
  2. Malone, T. W., & Lepper, M. R. (1987). Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning. Aptitude, learning, and instruction, 3(1987), 223-253.
  3. Lepper, M. R., & Malone, T. W. (1987). Intrinsic motivation and instructional effectiveness in computer-based education. Aptitude, learning, and instruction, 3, 255-286.

Learner-centered design

Summary: Learner centered design focuses on creating software for heterogeneous groups of learners who need scaffolding as they learn while completing constructivist activities.

Originators and Key Contributors: Elliot Soloway, Mark Guzdian, Kenneth E. Hay

Keywords: constructivism, learner-centered design, learners, scaffolding, software

Learner-centered Design

Learner-centered design (LCD) theory emphasizes the importance of supporting the learners’ growth and motivational needs in designing software[1]. In addition, since learners have different learning needs and learn in different ways, the software must be designed for the specific learner-audience.

The concept of scaffolds is central to learner-centered design. In order to support learners optimally, software should be designed with scaffolds that will support the learners as they need it. Examples of scaffolds in software are hints, explanation and encouragement to help learners understand a process, and questions to help learners reflect on what they are learning[2].

Software scaffolds that support learners best are adaptive, meaning that they change according to what the learner needs in any learning moment. When a learner needs more support, the software provides an increase in feedback to help the learner grow, stay engaged, and progress in mastering a skill. When the learner is reaching mastery, the software will provide reduced scaffolds in response to the learner’s increased skill level.

In focusing on learner-centered design, four elements must be addressed in designing the software. They are:

  1. Context: The goal, purpose, and audience of the software
  2. Interface: The front end and/or aesthetics of the software that learners interact with
  3. Tasks: What the learners will do in the software
  4. Tools: What is needed in the software to support the tasks that students will do; these can include scaffolds

Designing software from a LCD perspective keeps the learner in mind and, if done well, provides an effective and meaningful learning experience[3].

For more information on learner-centered design, read The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences.


  1. Soloway, E., Guzdial, M., & Hay, K. E. (1994). Learner-centered design: The challenge for HCI in the 21st century. interactions, 1(2), 36-48.
  2. Soloway, Elliot, et al. “Learning theory in practice: Case studies of learner-centered design.” Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems. ACM, 1996.
  3. Quintana, C., Carra, A., Krajcik, J., & Soloway, E. (2001). Learner-centered design: Reflections and new directions.

Digital citizenship

Summary: Digital citizenship is the state of having access to the Internet and communication technologies that help promote equal opportunity, democracy, technology skills, and human rights.

Originators and Key Contributors: Karen Mossberger, Caroline J. Tolbert, Ramona S. McNeal

Keywords: citizenship, civic engagement, community, online society, rights

Digital citizenship is the state of having access to Internet and Communication Technologies (ICTs) that help promote equal opportunity, democracy, technology skills, and human rights.

Mossberger, Tolbert, and McNeal developed the phrase “digital citizenship" in response to the Internet becoming a place where many people consumed and discussed media and information[1]. Having consistent Internet access meant more exposure to a wider range of information and viewpoints and the opportunity to engage in dialog.

When people have “full" digital citizenship, they have consistent access to the Web, and they use it regularly to learn skills, gain information, participate in conversations around issues that matter to them, create media about topics of concern, and perhaps even communicate with an elected official about their issues or concerns. They have more economic stability, which is based on having access to skills and information that may directly benefit their lives.

When people do not have Internet access, they get less information and, therefore, cannot make as informed decisions for themselves or their wider communities. They also have less economic opportunity and lower skills, which creates harmful economic inequity. This creates lower levels of participation in the political process.

In order to support a healthy democracy in the Internet age, it is recommended that governments provide their citizens with the digital tools to help them be fully included in socio-political processes to make their lives and extended communities better. When groups in society have widely varying states of digital citizenship, this can create a “digital divide" in which wealthier, more educated group have more Internet access than more poor, less educated groups. One solution for supporting widespread digital citizenship is by promoting more Internet access in people’s homes.

To read more about digital citizenship, check out this book: Digital Citizenship–The Internet, Society, and Participation


  1. Mossberger, K., Tolbert, C. J., & McNeal, R. S. (2007). Digital citizenship: The Internet, society, and participation. MIT Press.

privacy policy