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Towards a functional model for the selection of a valid technology mix for instructional purposes within interactive multimedia environments

John Barrett and Olugbemiro J Jegede
University of Southern Queensland
The delivery systems for instruction are what make distance education a unique venture for the provider, and a fulfilling experience for the learner. Until recently, print based materials supplemented by audio and video services, and computer assisted learning software and kits have been the main delivery systems. The emergence of interactive multimedia for the contemporary scene of media and communication technologies has potential for teaching and learning by the distance education mode. The choice and use of media and communication technologies in distance' education have in the past been confused, often not influenced by potential educational outcomes, sometimes unmindful about the characteristics and cost effectiveness of the technology, and unresponsive to the learning needs of students. What appears to be needed is the formulation of a rational structure for the selection and use of interactive multimedia and communication technologies for distance education instruction. This paper reports on the generation, validation, trialing and complications of a model for deciding on the media/ communication technology combination for application in an interactive multimedia learning environment.


The outcome of effective delivery of distance education/open learning rests on both the comprehensiveness of the expected educational goals and the use of appropriate media and communication technologies. In contemporary Australia there is evidence to suggest a widespread use of a range of technologies. This may have resulted from the realisation that distance/open learning and communication technologies provide an improved quality education, improve teaching and learning processes, increase access to the educational provision of a national character, and provide cost effective means of reaching the largest number of people at any given time.

It is equally clear that the application of this technology is uninformed. The scale and scope of technology based applications appears to be determined primarily by the persuasive powers of those individuals with a belief in the power of technology to enhance education, who are also in the position to influence budgetary allocations. While there are probably a number of examples of defensible effective practice, compelling examples of 'best practice' are almost impossible to identify at the present time. By definition, the identification of best practice demands empirical studies of a comparative nature, using various combinations of technology to address pre-specified educational outcomes and particular student target groups. Such evaluation and research reports are not widely available, and those that are, do not provide sufficient grounds for a generalisation due to a range of limitations, including small sample sizes and lack of sufficient explications of the instructional treatment. While the literature is diverse, it highlights the following important principle which should not he overlooked: delivery technologies are multi-functional and can be adapted to address a wide range of educational outcomes. The multi-functional nature of delivery technologies further complicates the search for 'best practice' based on the use of an optimal technology mix for a particular educational purpose (Atkinson & McBeath, 1990).

The multi-functional nature of delivery technologies and the movement towards multimedia usage in distance education and open learning necessitate the urgent need for a workable modus operandi for the selection and use. Alongside this selection is the need for related factors to be addressed. For examples contextual, personnel, curriculum, teaching/learning, and resources issues which are important to the use of multimedia within educational contexts demand thorough explication and understanding.

This paper reports on the generation, validation, and consolidation of a functional model for the selection and use of media and communication technologies.

Specifically, this report which is part of larger one conducted under the auspices of the Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET) is concerned about

Development of models

A model building methodology was employed in this study in order to synthesise the vast array of information pertaining to the use of media and communication technologies for instruction, especially in Distance and Open Learning. Three models - conceptual, operational and functional - were developed at different stages of the study.

Prior to the review of the literature and based on our understanding and knowledge of the broad factors involved in the project we established a general framework as set out in Figure 1. Whilst reviewing the literature we commenced development of a Functional Model which would reflect the wide areas of research findings and our re-conceptualisation of the problem and interconnectability of findings. This proved to be a demanding task because of the large variation in methodologies; research competence of authors; a diversity of focuses ranging from controlled research, through development report to experience reports (some Case Studies and "show and tell" stories); variation in media combination and variability of education and training applications.

Figure 1

Figure 1: The general framework of the conceptual model

Figure 2 identifies the elements and time span of the process which includes the development of an Operational Model generated from data reflecting actual practice obtained through empirical research procedures. In order to build this model an intermediate step of building functional groupings of Media and Communications technologies was required.

Figure 2

Figure 2: The model refinement process

Media and communications matrix

In an attempt to organise the various media and communication technologies into a logical framework, a matrix of communications technologies and media was developed (See chart 1). The chart "Functional Grouping of Communications Technology and Media" is a spatial outlay of the various media in respect to the communication type by the form of communication (textual, audio, visual).

"Conduit" Type of communicationOne-wayTwo-wayInteractive
TextMail, Library distributors Book, journal, etc
B and W text
Colour text
Text and graphic
Textbook (exercise)
Programmed text
Enactment - play/drama
(Role-playing, sociodrama)
Graphic/ photographicVisual display Film, paperB and W photo
Colour photo
Graphic reproduction
Slide show (inc. audience)
Overhead projection
Computer controlled animation
Training film
Discussion with OHP
AudioBroadcasts, packages Radio
Waves/ tape/ CD
AM radio
FM radio
Packet radio
Audio cassette
Compact disc (music)
CB radio
Talkback radio
"Twisted pair" copper Telephonic devicesAnswering machine
Voice mail
Teleconference (debate)Telephone conversation (oral discussion)
VideoBroadcast, networks, packages Tapes, discStill video
Video cassette
Training video
Video conference
Talkback TV
Video (arcade) games
Videodisc and computer
ImageNetworks (fibre optic) Computer - CD (jukebox)Scanned image
Electronic whiteboard
Imaging (local)
Network imaging
Multimedia imaging
"Data" (digital information)Networks, satellites Computer and discs (magnetic or optical)Data storage and retrieval:
Library info systems;
Data networks, eg, Stock Exchange, weather;
File sharing:
Computer managed learning
Traditional CAI
Expert systems
Decision support systems
Electronic mail
Audiographic (OPTEL telewriter)
Application software
AI programs
Computer assisted learning
problem solving
OPTEL Tutorial
Intelligent tutoring
Virtual reality

Chart 1: Functional grouping of communications technology and media

This tool provided a framework for media and technologies later employed in Section A of the questionnaire. In addition it raised the idea, as can be seen from Figure 3, of an "added value potential" or additive nature of media combinations as they apply to various learning events. This notion is further explored as an entirely practical way of viewing the relative contribution media and communication technologies make to learning outcomes. This matrix also contributed to the development of the Operational Model and to completion of the Functional Model.

Figure 3

Figure 3: Communications type by technology matrix: Structure

Current practice

An extensive review of the research literature and reports of practice relating to open learning, communications technologies and educational outcomes yields several interesting patterns.

A wide cross section of literature was investigated for the purposes of this review, but for the most part only literature from 1989 to 1992 was taken into consideration. The review covered distance education journals, education technology journals and mainstream and discipline based journals and specialist areas such as computer education. An observation is that generally these fields of publication are essentially exclusive.

An analysis of the articles indicate that with the exception of a few works by those who can be considered the 'theoreticians' of the field, (Holmberg, 1990; Jevons, 1985, for example), many of the articles lack a strong research or discipline base. Many other articles discuss recent technological developments but fail to offer a research perspective or theoretical base on which to build. Many articles simply discuss technological developments in a vacuum, without consideration for such elements as educational implications, political or societal concerns. [1]

Another problem involves what appears to be a growing nexus between those who are involved with sophisticated technology, and those who maintain an interest in educational issues (Albertson, 1981; Bates, 1991; Collins & Murphy, 1987). As technology continues to develop at a rapid pace, the gulf between what may essentially be termed the 'technician' and the 'educator' has grown tremendously. It is highly unlikely that a person working at the leading edge of technology has any qualifications or indeed, interest, in educational implications of that technology. This has been made abundantly clear by the large numbers of conference papers, articles and reports dealing strictly with the use (or potential use) of very sophisticated technologies. In most cases, educational outcomes or instructional design issues are simply not taken into consideration. It would appear that technology is indeed the driving force behind many innovations now being considered by distance educators (Kaye & Rumble, 1981; Tait, 1989). The rapid push for technological development and delivery overrides theoretical concerns as well as educational, social and political issues. The research base is also skewed in the sense that the technology itself becomes the focal point.

The review did not reveal any generalised model most applicable to open learning, communication technologies and effective delivery. A meta-model developed by Taylor (see Consultancy Four pp vi-x) provided a clear framework of the factors involved in selection of a valid technological mix which need to be taken into account in developing a course of study. As to efficiency, we found the Keegan Model (1990) the most useful or useable for general purpose application, and that developed by Ding (1990) to be the most comprehensive.

Methodology for creating the operational model

The purpose of the procedure discussed below was to build a model of actual practice at all levels of training and education involved instrumentation, data collection and analysis.


Two instruments were developed based on the ideas and issues addressed by the conceptual model, and the initial configuration of the functional model which arose from the extensive review of the literature. The two instruments are the Questionnaire on Open Learning Delivery (QOLD) and the Interview Protocol (see Consultancy Four DEET report).

The questionnaire

The questionnaire was comprised of three sections:

Section A consisted of a matrix listing communications technologies and their usage in learning events with different clientele. Respondents were requested to tick, relative to their organisation or institution, the use of each communications technology and media in the various learning situations in which they were being used. They were also expected to tick the student/training roup(s) generally involved in any selected learning situation(s).

Section B consisted of 24 items which sought a 'yes' or 'no' response on questions relating to open leaning and communications technologies focussing on context, personnel, curriculum, teaching and learning, and resource issues.

Section C had five, free response questions seeking comments on issues including a rationale for choosing particular communications technologies for open learning; measures of cost effectiveness; plus a list of instructional/communication technologies perceived as outstanding examples of the most effective use of technology in open learning. Provision was made for the respondents to mention, add or comment on the information already given in the questionnaire, if they wished.

The interview protocol

The interview protocol consisted of 18 major questions. Ten of the questions had an average of two follow up questions each. The interview protocol was designed so that the interviewer could omit any follow up questions to the major questions should time become very limited or if the interviewee had covered the answers to the questions while answering the major questions. The 18 major questions were on the use of communications technologies in open learning delivery, they also focussed on context, personnel, curriculum, teaching and learning, and resource issues.

Three major reasons account for the questions in the two instruments on the interaction of open learning and communications technologies, and the various issues upon which they were focussed. They are:

Validation and pilot testing

The development of the instruments underwent several stages of item generation, plus validation by a nationally appointed cross section of experts in the fields of distance education, open learning and communications technologies, from the various sectors of schooling, higher education, business and industry, and TAFE. The validation was followed by a pilot study using the instruments on a selected sample consisting of a representation of respondents across sectors. The invaluable information regarding the content validity, ease of completion or interviewing, the average duration taken by each instrument for administration or interviewing, the logistics and protocols for interviewing on site and by telephone, assisted in the development of the final instruments.

Sample and administration of the instruments

Stratified random sampling technique was employed to selected the sample of the study. The sample consisted of people nominated as being involved in distance education, open learning, technological innovation in education, training, communications technologies provision and the policy decision making involved in aspects of open learning. Representatives of all sectors of education (higher education, TAFE, schools) as well as business and industry from each of the states and territories were included. As a result 308 questionnaires were distributed. Of special note was the number of combined responses where a system wide approach was used rather than a return from a particular school or TAFE college. considering this, a response rate of about 50% was achieved.

Conduct of the interview

The interview was structured to cover at least one nominated specialist in the field from each of the four sectors, and in each State. Interviews were conducted face to face or by telephone.

To ensure comparability of interviewing a training session was conducted, after the trialling of the instruments, for all those participating in the data collection exercise.

Results and findings

Actual usage of technologies for learning events

With regards to which communications technologies are being used in particular learning events, it was found that audio is used by most target groups for "Discussion/Debate" (69%); Visual for "Exposition" (63%); Data & Computing for, "Problem Solving" (59%). Similarly, the table also indicated which technologies are actually used in learning situations. The results showed that Telephone is the most commonly used technology (69%), followed by Videotape (68%) and Standalone computers (68%). The least used technologies are Teletext (1%), International Cable Network (1%), Voice Mail (1%), Mobilsat (1%), and Packet Radio (1%).

Section B

Section B elicited responses on what provisions organisations have applicable to open learning and communications technologies. This summary focuses on the responses to some of the issues needing attention.


In general, there seemed to be a very weak base for implementation of structures for open learning (42%) and communications technologies (48.5%) across sectors.


Inadequacy in numbers of teaching and support staff for open learning (43.9%), and communications technologies (37.9%) were found. Similarly, the responses indicated the absence of an articulated career path for staff in open learning (16.7%) and communications technologies (10.6%).

There were indication that the teacher's role in the emerging educational provisions needs to be properly defined to accommodate the necessary changes and expectations.


There was a strong indication that the course materials being developed for open learning and Communications technologies do follow the modular approach. However, very little allowance is given for the learner and the provider to negotiate the curriculum in open learning (31.8%) and communications technologies (22.7%).

Teaching and learning, and resource demands

The free choice by the learner as to where and when to learn does not seem to be generally supported in open learning and the use of communications technologies.

It appeared that the use of communications technologies was not restricted to computer related disciplines alone, but spread widely to cover other disciplines. However, most respondents seemed to believe that facilities for instruction in open learning were inadequate.

Section C

This section called for free responses. The following is a summary of the respondents' opinions on the issues regarding the current state of open learning in Australia.

Outstanding examples of the most effective use of technology in open learning
According to the data collected from the survey, the following were identified as examples of the most effective uses of technology in open learning across sectors: Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI), video conferencing, Audiographic, Computer Managed Learning (CML), print materials and interactive TV.

The major objectives intended in the use of the communication technologies by the respondents were (i) to improve access, (ii) to teach special skills, and (iii) to engender interactivity.

Availability and appropriateness were the major reasons for delivering open learning in the way used by most of the organisations which responded to our survey.

However, very little has been done to gather any data to monitor the performance of the nominated communications technologies. The scanty monitoring that was done was by general evaluation through anecdotal reports and feedback.

The most pressing problems faced by organisations which are driving the use of communications technologies in open learning instruction
Most organisations felt that resource provisions, access and professional development were the most pressing problems they had to address through the use of communications technologies in open learning instruction.

Table 1 shows the Analysis of variance comparing the means of responses from the different sectors with regard to the use of the various communication technologies. The results contained in the table indicate significant differences in the use of the various communication technologies in schools, business/industry, TAFE and universities. The follow up interviews and other anecdotal reports indicated that there is little evidence to suggest that there is any policy for the choice and use of communication technologies in education and training in all the sectors. For a number of the institutions and organisations within the sample of the study, the use of communication technologies did not proceed beyond experiment action.

Communication technology SSDFF-RatioSig of F

2-Way Radio 39.1332.68.053*
Audio-conferencing 82.0633.21.028*
Video-conferencing 148.8937.55.002*
CAL 168.5634.80.004*
Video-disc 53.2635.34.002*
CD-TV 19.6634.19.008*

* Significant at p <.05 F

Table 1: Analysis of variance comparing the mean differences on responses on the use of
communication technologies by school, business/industry, TAFE and university sectors.

Functional model: Refinements

Taking into account the outcomes of the empirical research and the formulation of the Operational Model, a model which could be applied to systems design incorporating media and communication technologies for instruction, such as a University Open Learning System, was constructed. This so called Functional Model has two major instruments:

A. The open learning/technology system components

The key elements of the overall system are identified and series of developmental steps are employed to produce the delivery system. As indicated in Figure 4, the usual developmental steps would be:
  1. Detailing purpose which results from contextual issues and financial considerations. The system goals are then delineated.

  2. All aspects of content (knowledge capture), instructional (learning events evaluation) design and packing are treated. This would encompass the notion of curriculum design and development production scheduling and quality control etc. The content or message must then be distributed in the delivery system (iii-iv-v).

  3. The primary delivery technology is employed as the system 'backbone'. Such a technology may be communications (networks), audio or video, television, computing/information systems or the mail system. Whatever the conduit and media used the message or content arrives at the terminal delivery point.

  4. The message is 'dealt with' at the delivery platform which may be a television set, a computer (PC or workstation), a postal 'mail box'. Through the user - machine/media interface the learner/student makes use of message ie. receives and perceives its content.

  5. Due to the nature of the delivery system, the utility of the delivery platform and interface, the learner can make immediate use and later apply the knowledge, skills, values or attitudes resulting from all aspects of the purpose, design/ development, delivery cycle. The benefits, cost and ultimate value of the system rests with application of criterion in a summative evaluation process.

  6. The contextual factors, single or in combination support and constrain the system. Evaluation of efficiency and effectiveness in terms of a sponsor's criteria will influences further support or imposes limitations on continuation conditions.
To indicate the application of this framework completing the pertinent 'boxes' enables some illustrative examples to be generated which highlight the final outcome of quite different systems in regards to main technical aspects, the nature of the course delivered and clients served, as well as influencing the packaging and flexibility of the system. To complete a particular model, a designer/ decision maker would need to calculate the 'missing' data under the heading "Application" (v)b.

Figure 4

Figure 4: Open learning technology system: Components

B. Decision support instrument

To further enhances the useability of this model an Open Learning Technology Decision Instrument was created. This instrument is fully reported elsewhere (see Consultancy Four document). It provides a more detailed account of the factors pertinent to building a delivery system under varying conditions of need and resource availability.


Institutions are becoming more 'communications literate' and as knowledge and understanding of the capabilities and the application of such technology expands, new demands are being placed on systems for: provision of equipment; negotiation with carriers; training of staff; technical support and assistance; location of suitable facilities to house technologies; curriculum support and assistance with new methodologies; updated information of successful trials/projects in other Australian States; information on new and emerging technologies.

Despite the rapid growth in the use of communications technologies, the existent scepticism amongst educators and users has yet to be overcome. Confidence in using technology develops hand in hand with the growth of expertise in presenting lessons and in communicating generally. Staff training is a big issue and training and support through a system of network coordinators or other means is essential. Issues relating to supervision of students at both transmitting and receiving sites, the provision of curriculum resources, technical support and local coordination of, for example, school timetables require collaboration.

Educators have long stressed the need for curriculum consultants to work in conjunction with instructional designers and technologists. This does not always occur, but attention is now being given to the development of national curricula that makes provision for teaching using alternative mechanisms such as computers etc.

Teaching and learning

The use of technology for information sharing, curriculum delivery and staff development has been explored in most States. As yet there is little evidence of improvement in student outcomes - probably due to the limited time span over which such technologies have been utilised and hence a limited degree of past usage. However it will be necessary to provide tangible evidence in future.

The success (or otherwise) of the implementation of systems appears to have been contingent on the year in which they were first introduced. In the late 1980's schools accessed Commonwealth funding to instigate trial projects. There is a perception in the schools section that TAFE and higher education have been better resourced by DEET in the provision of technological communication systems.

What all these translate to is the need to rationally select valid communication technologies for instructional purposes with a view to achieving cost benefit effectiveness and efficiency of prediction.

A possible answer is the use of an added value model that is applicable to a wide range of sectors, learning and training environment and for a variety of outcomes. The development, through this study, of a functional model for the selection of a valid technology mix for instructional purposes within interactive multimedia environments provides such an answer.

Summary of recent developments

In the period since Consultancy Four was completed significant developments have taken place in the DEC, University of Southern Queensland in respect of advancing the outcomes of the Unit Team mode of operations established at USQ. We have established a development infrastructure which makes our approach feasible.

In terms of the models discussed above, we continue to build upon what is essentially a publishing system. The core of our current system is printed materials complemented by other media. We are moving in the direction of all materials being in electronic form for design, development and distribution on CD-ROM and incorporating the added value components of still, moving visuals and audio in an interactive mode.

We are progressing our aim to combine our vast electronic content base with other developments such as Multimedia /CAL; our exceptional CML program; Audiographics and Computer Mediated Communications. This plan contrasts with, for example, systems which have been built on a "backbone" of video conferencing or Broadcast Television. The DEC system can accommodate any mix of advanced media and communication technologies.

The core technologies we are concentrating our efforts on are concerned with developing electronic documents at all stage of the design - development - production and distribution cycle (see Barrett, 1992:178). We are investigating and developing working demonstrations which use electronic document handling and control and 'work group' technologies to provide a sophisticated development environment and delivered learning environment.

Research also continues on exploring the educational and technological aspects of interactive TV, network models of course development and innovative applications of computer mediated conferencing as well as integration of current systems with audiographic technologies.

In many respects technology plays a secondary role, with our main focus being on the capture and design of content and facilitating learning experiences. We have focused on learning and learners, content and content experts; Instructional Technology and Instructional Design specialists in order to produce a viable development and delivery system which is manageable and effective. The Added Value template which emerged from our investigation provides a sound design conceptual and practical basis from which decisions can be made about the nature, extent, effectiveness and efficiency of both development environments and delivery system.


  1. Based on work conducted by M. Gloat, Project Research Assistant, USQ.


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Keegan, D. (1990). Open learning: Concepts and costs, successes and failures. In R. Atkinson and C. McBeath (Eds.), Open Learning and New Technology: Conference proceedings, 230-243. Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology WA Chapter. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/olnt90/keegan.html

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Authors: John Barrett, Senior Lecturer, Head, Instructional Technology, Distance Education Centre, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba Qld 4350
Tel: 076 312 297 Fax: 076 312 868 Email: barrett@usq.edu.au

Olugbemiro Jegede, Head, Research & Evaluation, Distance Education Centre, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba Qld 4350
Tel: 076 312 880 Fax: 076 312 868 Email: jegede@usq.edu.au

Please cite as: Barrett, J. and Jegede, O. J. (1994). Towards a functional model for the selection of a valid technology mix for instructional purposes within interactive multimedia environments. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 23-31. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/bc/barrett.html

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