Visual versus Audio Messages

Crigler, A.N., Just, M., & Neuman, W.R. (1994). Interpreting visual versus audio messages in television news. Journal of communication, 44(4), 132-149.

     This research assessed the impact of audio, visual, and audiovisual television news messages in promoting learning, and understanding political messages. According to Crigler, Just, and Neuman (1994), the underlying question is, “do the pictures speak for themselves, or do verbal messages hold the key to increased retention of and personal attachment to stories about political issues?” Results from this study suggest audio narrative by itself carried the greatest percentage of the message, enhanced learning, and enabled understanding of the issues equally well as an audiovisual presentation. However, audiovisual messages produced the strongest emotional impact.

     This article provided very informative and helpful background on studies conducted to assess the effects of audio and video. In summarizing the findings of a number of studies, the article indicated no one medium (print, audio, and audiovisual) has a clear advantage in its ability to persuade, inform, or create emotional responses. Rather, a large body of research indicates “the effectiveness of the medium depended in complex and conflicting ways on the characteristics of the communicator, the message, the situation, and the audience member” (Crigler, Just, & Neuman, 2004). The variation in medium effectiveness is demonstrated in Table 1, which gives an overview of the findings by McGuire’s (1969, 1985) studies on the persuasive effects of identical messages in different media.

Table 1 – Overview of persuasive effects of media, McGuire (1969, 1985)

More effective when:
Less effective when:
Speakers characterized as highly credible Speakers with less credibility
Speakers with less credibility  
  (more effective than video) when audience members have high cognitive ability (less effective than video) when audience members have low cognitive ability
Vivid, concrete visuals associated with increase recall, and in some cases with greater retention of the story as a whole (Intervening variable-Relevance) Issues that are less relevant
  Images that reinforce the message Images that contrast with the message
  Illustrating causes & consequences improved retention of message Pictures of people and places improved recall of people and places, but not the message
  Close up views of people are most memorable, stir emotions, hold attention  
  (effectiveness of visuals also affected by repetition and length of story)  

This information may be potentially helpful in the development of effective instructional media, provided there is adequate analysis of the target audience to inform the development process.

     While the review of research findings on the persuasive effects of media may be very helpful, I was most intrigued by the results of the authors’ research. Their findings clearly demonstrated the audio channel carries the bulk of the information in an audiovisual study. Further, results indicated the amount of learning was essentially the same for the audio only messages and the audiovisual messages. Audiovisual messages were found to be less consistently effective, depending on the way visuals were used to support the narrative audio. Audiovisuals organized in a logical sequence following the narrative significantly enhanced learning and recall. Audiovisuals presenting images as illustrations, without a logical sequence were far less effective in promoting learning and recall. The surprising bottom line was that audio alone provided the same level of cognitive satisfaction compared to audiovisual news story, and the information content delivered via audio comprised the majority of the information remembered by participants.

     News stories are not lectures, and professors are not professional news anchor persons. Nevertheless, I find some encouraging implications regarding the use of podcasting and recorded audio as an effective teaching and learning tool.

  1. These findings support many earlier studies indicating recorded audio narrative is an effective medium for communicating information.
  2. Whether the delivery system is educational podcasting or audio cassettes may be less important than the quality and relevance of the audio recording.
  3. Audio leads video. That is, the video track must logically follow the audio track to be most effective.
  4. If audio does communicate the majority of information in a recorded story, it may be less important in some contexts (and therefore less expensive) to produce effective educational podcasts and audio recordings.

Perhaps this just shows the old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words” may not always be true.

Reviewer: –Randy Meredith 20:14, 26 Nov 2005 (EST)

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Podagogy gains ground

On October 12, 2005 I had the privilege of being one of 5 presenters in a webinar coordinated by Allan Carrington. The main audience of the webinar was located in Kona, HI, at the University of the Nations. Webinar presenters included

My portion of the presentations focused on emerging technologies: Podcasting, Blogging, Wikis, Social Bookmarking, and Voice over IP (VoIP). In the process of developing the presentation I formulated a framework for the pedagogical use of podcating.

Rob Reynolds’ interesting article on Pedagogy for Podcasting at Xplanazine suggested a framework of “context -> information -> review”. I thought this an outstanding idea, and spent a good deal of time mulling it over. As a result, I used Rob’s framework as a springboard to a slightly different model:

Context -> Content -> Review -> Connect


  • Connect with prior learning
  • Connect with learning objectives
  • Establish relevance
  • Provide advance organizers


  • Present high level overview, clearly structured, mapped to outcomes
  • Present in small “chunks”
  • Enable student to create a cognitive “map” of the content (relationships, precedence, sequence, dependencies, etc.)


  • Provide “audio bullet points” covering the salient issues of the podcast


  • Reflective assignment (personal reflection paper, journal/blog entry)
  • Reflective assignment (collaborative assessment-discussion postings and responses)
  • Next steps
    • online course resources
    • self-assessments
    • supplemental readings
    • case studies
    • problem sets
    • transcript of podcast
    • webliographies
    • bibliographies
    • media links
  • Connect to assigned readings
  • Advance connection to next topic in course sequence

Since then I have found 2 additional sites advocating “podagogy”, and a thoughtful framework for doing so. The first site is Teaching & Learning with Podcasting (U. of Wisconsin at Madison). This is an excellent resource for faculty considering the use of podcasting/coursecasting. The second site is the University of Wolverhampton’s School of Sport, Performing Arts, and Leisure Podagogy site. This site does not provide any resources of note. The main point of interest for me was their use of the term podagogy.

Obviously, the framework I’ve suggested is an untested framework, and represents an idea in process. I want to express my appreciate to Rob Renolds at Xplanazine for his insight, and to Allan Carrington for organizing the webinar which was the catalyst forcing me to begin crystalizing my thoughts on a pedagogical framework for podcasting. I would be very interested in other’s thoughts on a pedagogical framework for podcasting.

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An MP3 a day. . .

A brief review of a research article
Chan, A. & Lee, M. J. W. (2005). An MP3 a day keeps the worries away: Exploring the use of podcasting to address preconceptions and alleviate pre-class anxiety amongst undergraduate information technology students. In Spennemann, D. & Burr, L. (Eds.), Good practice in practice. Proceedings of the Student Experience Conference September 5-7, 2005. Wagga Wagga, NSW: Charles Sturt University, (p. 59-71).

Chan & Lee’s (2005) exploration of literature relevant to the educational use of audio provides a rationale for an action research project on podcasting, which they began at their university in August of this year. Based on the results of in-class surveys and research related to student’s pre-class anxiety, the authors have developed a research project employing short audio clips, delivered via RSS to alleviate student pre-class anxiety.

The literature reviewed by the authors suggests student anxiety about a course, or topics within a course, can be a significant impediment to a student’s motivation, persistence, and achievement. Many student anxieties are related to student misconceptions regarding the perceived difficulty of learning a concept or mastering a skill. Research indicates the most effective method for dealing with student anxieties is to identify the anxieties and address student concerns before they come to class. Mentoring, peer-instruction, and collaborative learning a some of the key active learning strategies for addressing student anxiety. Distribution of supplemental printed materials is another common strategy, providing anxious students with additional resources, which can further clarify difficult concepts or processes.

Audio, according the cited research, is a neglected, underused method of teaching and learning in institutions of higher education. It is suggested this is largely due to a bias against listening as a means of teaching and learning. There is, however, a large body of research indicating the effectiveness of well produced, well delivered audio as a teaching medium.

The strengths of audio as a teaching medium are rooted in the human ability to convey and receive tremendous amounts of information through speech. Compared to written text, audio provides the advantage of conveying intonation, amplitude, rhythm, pacing, and timbre. Our natural ability to creatively vary any one of these characteristics enables audio to effectively convey a broad range of human feelings, attitudes, and emotions. Voice recordings can also contribute a humanizing factor to communication, unlike raw text.

The action research project is currently underway, and the results from the research will be used for further research on additional ways to effectively address student’s learning needs using audio. The authors will produce weekly podcasts of 3-4 minutes in length to provide a pre-class overview, and measure student anxiety via periodic student surveys.

The review of the literature in this article has been very helpful in my own research on the use of audio. However, several questions come to mind while reading this article. First, the information used to decide a podcast’s optimal run time is anecdotal, suggesting podcasts be designed like a Top 40 song lasting no more than four minutes because “people go to the bar during the drum solo” (p.67). While that may be true for bands playing at a popular dance club, is this necessarily true for an educational podcast? Isn’t the Top 40 design idea more or less constrained by culture? Would such a design approach be appropriate in Asian, Middle Eastern, or Eastern European cultures?

Another question I would raise is what kind of pedagogical model is available to guide the development of educationally sound podcasts? Does a new model need to be created, or can an existing model be adapted? The authors of the article never raise the issue of pedagogy in relation to podcast development.

Further, while I have read some brief articles from various blogs regarding cognition and the use of audio, as far as I can tell no research exists which explores the cognitive factors affected by educational podcasts, or whether particular podcast formats are more effective in stimulating cognitive activities resulting in learning, or creating new understanding.

Finally, the authors cite research suggesting that audio is poorly suited for teaching certain subjects. Subjects requiring complex mental processing, mental deconstruction, or a great deal of concentration, are not good candidates for the use of audio (according to the cited research). The same research indicates that subject dealing with attitudes, feelings, atmosphere, opinions, and argument, are good candidates for audio. If this could be confirmed by additional research it seems possible a taxonomy could be constructed identifying which subjects or disciplines might best be served using audio.

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