Can functional brain imaging be used to explore interactivity and cognition in multimedia learning environments?

Barney Dalgarno, Gregor Kennedy, Sue Bennett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


This article reviews existing methods used to address questions about interactivity, cognition and learning in multimedia learning environments. Existing behavioural and self-report methods identified include observations, audit trails, questionnaires, interviews, video-stimulated recall, and think-aloud protocols. The limitations of these methods are examined, highlighting the problems with using behavioural information to speculate about the cognitive activity that is occurring; the difficulties posed by relying on the correct interpretation of questions or accurate recall of past events; and the potential for the data collection methods to have an impact on cognition as it is occurring. Functional brain imaging techniques offer a complement to the existing methods, but possess a number of inherent methodological constraints. The specific constraints emerging from a recent pilot study carried out by the authors are discussed in detail, including: (a) limitations on learner-computer interaction because of the need to use MRI compatible input devices; (b) activation from motor tasks potentially confounding the results of comparisons between cognition occurring during interactive and noninteractive resources; (c) visual differences between multimedia conditions potentially confounding the results due to activation associated with the visual processing; and (d) problems with the provision of "baseline" or "rest" conditions for comparison purposes during holistic problem-based tasks. Despite these constraints it is argued that the use of functional imaging techniques within this field of research has significant potential.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)317-342
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Interactive Learning Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2010
Externally publishedYes


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