Human Resource Development
Graduate Student Research Project


Teaching Tools
Resources for Evaluation & Performance
ITE 335 International Development and Technology
CIMT 610 Research in Education
ITE 670 Systematic Instructional Design
HRD Internship
CIMT 543 Production of Instructional Materials
ITE 675 Leadership of HR
ITE 695

The Process of Selecting Appropriate Instructional Media


Written By

Joseph I. Williams


For partial fulfillment of 

CIMT 4-543

Production of Instructional Materials



Selecting the appropriate instructional media for education or training purposes is an important step in the instructional design process.  In the process of selecting instructional media a designer develops, designs and implements a measuring tool, which should provide an outline of the learning goals and objectives and can help determine potential aspects of the learners need and his or her style of learning.  A systematic plan for selecting and implementing instructional media technologies enable the designer to better anticipate which method, media, or materials are appropriate for the context in which instruction and learning are taking place.

The selection process has three steps:  (1) deciding on the appropriate method for the given learning tasks, (2) choosing media format that is suitable for carrying out the method, and (3) selecting, modifying, or designing specific materials within that media format.  The majority of instructional materials used by teachers are off the shelf, that is, ready-made or easily accessible.  However, it is not sufficient to think of the selection of instructional materials as simply choosing a textbook.  Today, more than ever, instructional materials should be examined in terms of their components.  The criteria provide a set of common questions to ask of each media.  The designer can use these questions to compare different media and also to compare different evaluations of the same materials.

  • Is it cost effective?
  • Is it accessible?
  • Is it user-friendly?
  • Does it coincide with the cultures traditional way of learning?
  • Does it foster different ways of teaching?
  • Does it promote learner-learner and learner-instructor interaction?
  • Is the medium motivating?
  • Is it effective?

Media format is defined as the physical form in which a message is incorporated and displayed.  Media formats include, flip charts, slides, audio, video, and computer multimedia.  Each has different strengths and limitations in terms of the types of messages that can be recorded and displayed.  The general media specific and instructional approach specific criteria are usually organized into a form for easy use.  Some authorities have a different form for each type of media product (Granger, et. al., 1998); others propose a general form (Heinich, et. al., 2002).  These instruments usually take the form of a checklist or questionnaire to be sure you cover all the criteria systematically.  Many teachers start a materials evaluation file in which they use a short form to evaluate materials each time they see them.  On that form they collect descriptive information to help them remember the materials, access information, and evaluate information, which ends with a final judgment whether they think they would like to use the materials.

Most teachers often structure assignments to allow students with different preferred learning styles to pursue their individual practice through different methods.  The mode of delivery methods selected determines to a great extent the learning that can take place.  A comprehensive educational effort requires a mix of methods to address different phases of the program and to tailor efforts to the needs of different audiences.  Using multiple methods helps accommodate different learning styles and can decrease barriers to participation.  The teacher should build a sequence of planned learning events over a period of time to encourage learning, change, and problem resolution.  I feel that choosing a media format can be a complex task, considering the vast array of media available, the variety of learners, and the many objectives to be pursued.

The selection criteria vary with different media formats.  Video and film materials, for example, raise the issue of the pace of presentation, whereas this would not be relevant for overhead transparencies.  In developing computer-assisted instruction courseware, one would look for relevant practice and remedial feedback, but these would not be expected in a filmstrip.  For example, a remedial reading teacher might decide to use a particular filmstrip primarily because its vocabulary level is just right, regardless of any other qualities.  On the other hand, an elementary school teacher with a class that is very diverse ethnically might sort through materials to find those with a special sensitivity to racial and ethnic issues.

Perhaps even more challenging to teachers are the instructional role changes they know will accompany true technology integration.  The teacher's role in a technology-infused classroom often shifts to that of a facilitator or coach rather than a lecturer.  As students become more self-directed, teachers who are not accustomed to acting as facilitators or coaches may not understand how technology can be used as part of activities that are not teacher-directed.  Clark (1994) succinctly summarizes the challenge: "Problems exist with finding and using appropriate media for instruction.  The number of high-quality curriculum materials has increased, and there is a wider variety; however, creating innovative learning opportunities for all students remains a fundamental challenge and elusive for far too many teachers."

Application of the criteria to materials for different media varies depending on the medium and the instructional approach (presentation, tutorial, drill and practice, simulation, instructional game, etc.).  For example, looking at different types of media, you are seldom worried about reading level in an instructional video or audiotape, but reading level is a major concern in a computer-based tutorial.

When considering an instructional approach, for an instructional game it is important that winning the game is dependent on achieving the instructional goals; obviously this is not a concern in a tutorial.  It would be overly simplistic to believe that there is one method that is superior to all others or that serves all learning needs equally well.  Most lessons will probably incorporate two or more methods to serve different purposes at different points.

There are three main costs associated with selecting media.  They are fixed, variable and material costs.  All of these costs are affected by the choice of media.  I believe that in order to determine the cost-effectiveness of a medium you need to compare the relative costs of the learning institutions.  Keegan (1996, 213-214) warned readers in spite of the long association of the field with the use of technological media, there is as yet little grounded theory on the cost-effectiveness and the educational effectiveness of the use of media.  We should be somewhat skeptical of any new medium, which promises to reduce educational costs and increase learning especially if this claim is unsubstantiated, as well as, any approach that claims to truly measure cost effectiveness.  Because of the inherent difficulties in accurately measuring the quality of learning that takes place as a result of a new medium, for the most part, teachers, when judging the cost effectiveness of a medium, resort to concentrating on only that which is easily measurable, and that is dollar cost.  Specifically, they tend to concentrate on the affect the medium has on fixed start-up and maintenance costs, as well as, course design and production costs.

There are two examples that clearly illustrate the importance of cost as a deciding factor in the success or demise of a medium.  They are print and video.  It may be argued that convenience and economy are key factors contributing to its continued use.

Video, on the other hand, has virtually replaced film overnight as an educational medium of choice for one very simple reason its much cheaper:  Film has become an expensive medium, both the software (films themselves) and the hardware (film projectors).  The video version to a title is generally a fraction of the costs of the film version, and the combination of a video player and video monitor costs less than a film projector.  When determining the cost-effectiveness of a medium, teachers should also consider the cost to the student.  Depending on the media being used, the cost to the student can vary considerably.  For the success of a truly cost effective development, teachers will have to demonstrate the ability to analyze the users needs, mix and match the appropriate technologies to those needs and understand the shortcomings of technology.  Most media are flexible, in that each can be used for a variety of teaching functions.  However, while most media can present abstract knowledge and ideas, which are mainly conveyed through the use of spoken or written language, few media are able to present concrete examples of objects, processes, events, etc.  Video material is a very rich and flexible medium capable of conveying both abstract knowledge and concrete examples, so it is particularly valuable for demonstrating procedures or events. 

According to Clark (1983, p. 456), it is what the teacher doesthe teachingthat influences learning.  Clark firmly believes that method is casual to learning while media is not.  However, Kozma (1994) argued, Medium and method have a more integral relationship.  He wrote that certain media allow methods that would have been difficult or impossible to implement in other media. 

Regardless of who is right, it can easily be argued that any medium that allows course developers the freedom to incorporate a variety of instructional methods is preferable to a medium that is more limited.

When it comes down to making a decision, the effectiveness of a medium as an educational tool is a relatively minor consideration in the selection process.  A common theme in education research is to compare two or more media in relation to their effectiveness: does it teach better than (Threlkeld & Brzoska 1994, p.42).  There have been hundreds of media comparison studies performed over the past forty years, and the results have been uniform.

The instructional medium doesnt appear to make any important difference in student achievement, attitudes, and retention.  More simply stated, effectiveness is not a serious consideration in media selection because no one has been able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that media really does influence learning.

One of the first people to classify teaching/learning methods was Lewis Elton, Britain's first (and, for a long time, only) Professor of Educational Technology.  In a seminal paper presented at the 1977 Annual Conference of the Association for Educational and Training Technology, he described the three classes as the dependent mode, the independent mode and the inter-dependent mode, reflecting the radically different roles of the student in each.  He also contended that the entire post-war evolution of educational technology could be described in terms of the development of these three areas.

A large amount of basic research has been carried out on the relative effectiveness of different types of media and materials in different instructional situations.  This shows that most media can perform most instructional functions to a certain extent, but that some are better at doing certain things than others, with no single medium being best for all purposes.

Thus, it is possible to adopt what is at least a 'semi-objective' approach to the selection of instructional materials, based on consideration of the particular instructional strategy that is to be employed, the specific tactical methods to be used within that strategy, and the characteristics of the materials that can be used to support or implement these methods.  One method for which has been widely used in media selection is the algorithm, which is a procedure for computing.  This method should be used to identify possible media and materials for achieving specific objectives, with the final selection being made after other factors such as availability or ease of production, availability of the necessary equipment, cost, convenience and personal preference have been taken into account. Instructors over the years have used many different formulas for simplifying this task.  The most common formula is using the media selection model that is usually a flowchart or checklist.  Within the model, the instructional situation or setting (e.g., large group, small group, or self-instruction), learner variables (e.g., reader, nonreader, or auditory preference), and the nature of the objective (e.g., cognitive, affective, motor skill, or interpersonal) must be considered against the presentational capabilities of each of the media format (e.g., still visuals, motion visuals, printed words, or spoken words).  Basically, the limitation of the media selection model is to keep it relatively simple.

The selection of media should be to meet the needs of the audience and objectives.  Media differ in their characteristics and, hence, in their suitability purposes.  In the rush to accommodate learning styles, the basic characteristics of media should not be discounted.  Even an auditory learner benefit greatly from an art history class taught entirely through audiotape.  However, many instructional designers feel that instructional products should be to individuals learning styles and that, therefore, a range of learning styles should be considered when selecting media (Park, 1996).  Instructional products should be adaptable for use by persons with disabilities.  Therefore, media choices or media duplication should accommodate users with visual impairments, hearing impairments, learning disabilities, and motor disabilities.  In all too many cases, such selection is made purely on a basis of personal preference and availability, with little or no thought being given to the suitability of the media or materials for helping to achieve the desired instructional objectives.  Inevitably, this often leads to the use of inappropriate materials, with a resulting reduction in the effectiveness of the instructional process.

A barrier to technology integration is the difficulty many teachers face in finding and using appropriate software for instruction.  Inexperienced teachers at apprenticeship stages of technology integration may need guidance in locating multimedia software and Internet sites to support the school's learning goals, either because they are unfamiliar with these media or because they feel overwhelmed by the profusion of software on the market and sites on the Internet.

During the last several years, research has been debated about what criteria should be applied in selecting materials.  Studies have been conducted to quantify and validate various criteria.  The net result is an understanding that different criteria are suitable for different situations.  But in education, if only solutions could be that simple.  Koumi (1994) argues that: there does not exist a sufficiently practicable theory for selecting media appropriate to given topics, learning tasks and target populations the most common practice is not to use a model at all.  In which case, it is no wonder that allocation of media has been controlled more by practical economic and human/political factors than by pedagogic considerations.  Strategies related to the selection and use of software and Internet sites to achieve learning goals should be part of teachers' professional development plan.

Final media selection should take into account the following criteria: cost, accessibility, interactivity and friendliness, motivational value, and effectiveness.  However, you shouldn't only consider the content or form of the teaching when trying to select which medium to use; the kind of learning skills to be developed must also be considered, e.g. motor skills, comprehension, problem-solving, interpersonal skills, etc. Certain media are better than others in terms of how they represent objects, facts, ideas, processes, etc., and their potential to develop learning skills.

Text is particularly good for comprehension, abstract ideas, developing arguments, etc.  Computers are good for rule-based knowledge, for which there are correct answers or procedures.  Video material is particularly good for procedural and interpersonal skills and for conveying concrete examples.  It is also good for presenting complex, real-life situations that require interpretation, where ambiguity may be advantageous and a variety of learner responses acceptable.  You should also evaluate the ability of the media to contribute to student learning from both the teachers viewpoint and the students viewpoint.  To summarize the selection process, the teacher should determine the content of instruction, determine objectives and purposes of instruction, determine the size of the target audience, review media attributes in relation to target audience, and select appropriate media.  Selection is just the beginning of the implementation process.  Therefore, planning how you will use your new program, as well as what you hope to achieve by using it, should be central to the design of your selection process.



Clark, R. E. (1983).  Reconsidering research on learning from media.  Review of Educational Research, 53(4), 445-459.


Clark, R. E. (1994).  Media will never influence learning.  Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21-30).


Granger, D. (1988).  U.S. higher education and international distance learning.  The American Journal of Distance Education, 2(3), 80-88.


Heinich, R., Modenda, M., Russell, J. D., & Smaldino, S. E. (2002).  Instructional media and technologies for learning (5th ed.).  Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice-Hal


Keegan, D. (1996).  Foundations of distance education (3rd ed.).  New York, NY.: Routledge.


Koumi, J. (1994).  Media comparisons and deployment: A practitioners view.  British Journal of Educational Technology, 25(1), 41-57.


Kozma, D.R. (1994).  Learning with media.  Review of Educational Research, 61(2), 179211).


Spronk, B. J. (1995).  Appropriating learning technologies: Aboriginal learners, needs, and practices.  In J.M. Roberts & E.M. Keough (Eds.), Why the information highway? Lessons from open & distance learning, (pp. 77-101). Toronto, CAN: Trifolum Books.


Threlkeld, R. & Brzoska, K. (1994).  Research in distance education.  In B. Willis (Ed.), Distance education: Strategies and tools, (pp. 41-66).  Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Educational Technology Publications.


Media selection matrix matching the right media for specific method and level of available technology (low-tech, medium-tech and high-tech) in PennState: