Children learn more across multiple types of media and ISE experiences

January 1st, 2016

This article was migrated from a previous version of the Knowledge Base. The date stamp does not reflect the original publication date.


Numerous research studies have demonstrated that educational media can produce significant STEM learning among children.  Viewing of educational television has been found to contribute to children’s knowledge, skills, and attitudes regarding STEM.  Interactive games have can produce significant STEM learning as well.

Today, however, it is increasingly common for projects to span more than one media platform.  For example, an educational television series might be accompanied by a related Web site, hands-on outreach materials, or even a museum exhibit or live show.  Producers often employ multiple platforms, not only to extend the reach of their projects, but also under the assumption that combination of media yields added benefits for children’s learning, beyond those that might be provided by one medium alone.  But is this assumption true?

Findings from Research and Evaluation 

To find out, recent research investigated the question of how learning from combined use of related, multiple media platforms (known as cross-platform learning) compares to learning from a single medium (Fisch, Lesh, Motoki, Crespo, & Melfi, 2010, in press).  This research, using the PBS school-age mathematics series Cyberchase, found that combined use of the Cyberchase television series and online games produced more consistent improvement in children’s mathematical problem solving than use of either medium by itself. (Interestingly, though, the gains produced by television plus games were also greater than the gains of children who used both media along with teacher-led hands-on activities.  It is unclear why the latter, “all materials” group showed smaller gains, but clearly, “more” was not always better.)  Moreover, the study found that, compared to children who played online Cyberchase math games without also watching the TV series, children who used multiple media also employed significantly more mathematically sophisticated strategies to play the online games.

Thus, the data suggest that the added value of cross-platform learning stems from several factors: (1) Repeated exposure to similar STEM content provides multiple opportunities to master and reinforce the basic concepts.  (2) Encountering the same content in multiple contexts also helps children recognize that the content can be applied in a wide variety of situations. (3) Children who use multiple media can apply the content learned from one medium to help them while they are in the process of learning from the other (e.g., applying mathematical content learned from a television series to aid in playing an online mathematical game), resulting in richer, more sophisticated engagement with the latter medium.  Indeed, it is quite possible that cross-platform learning may not only permit but facilitate these sorts of connections.  For example, encountering Cyberchase characters in an online game might lead children to think of other times when they saw the same characters (e.g., on television), thus facilitating transfer of learning from one medium to another.

Naturally, though, designing for cross-platform learning entails more than simply producing material for multiple media platforms.  To obtain the benefits of cross-platform learning, STEM content should be carefully aligned across platforms.  The narrative or game content should be designed in ways that help to encourage children to make connections as well.

These points also suggest intriguing possibilities for convergent media, in which the narrative and explanatory power of video, the participatory strength of interactive games, and the in-person support provided in hands-on media can be combined in a single experience.  For example, consider an interactive game in which the “hint” button pulls up an explanatory video clip, or imagine a video with an embedded interactive game that allows the viewer to use mathematics to help the protagonist achieve her goal in the video.

Directions for Future Research 

As an emerging area of both production and research, future research will be needed to further explore and understand the nature of cross-platform learning, and to discover production techniques that can maximize its effectiveness.  In the meantime, however, the existing research suggests that, when educational media are designed and implemented properly, significant educational benefits can result.

Transmedia learning, learning across multiple media as the learner builds experience upon experience, has been identified as a way to scaffold competence and confidence. This has been studied by various researchers (TedX, Raybourne 2015) and is a rich area of study across both adult and youth learning.

The concept of Blended Learning has also grown in interest in various learning communities, where the core elements of a topic/skill/area are broken apart into their various desired learning outcomes, then recombined in a non-linear fashion through multiple and varied learning experiences, both individual and social. The early trends of blended learning are rooted in performance outcomes, many times job-related, but seem to have a nice element of non-linear scaffolding that holds promise for the free-choice learning fields.


Fisch, S.M., Lesh, R., Motoki, E., Crespo, S., & Melfi, V. (2010).  Children’s learning from multiple media in informal mathematics education.  Teaneck, NJ: MediaKidz Research & Consulting (with Indiana University/PRISM Learning and Michigan State University).  Retrieved from’s_Learning_from_Multiple_Media_in_Informal_Mathematics_Education

Fisch, S.M., Lesh, R., Motoki, E., Crespo, S., & Melfi, V. (in press).  Cross-platform learning: How do children learn from multiple media?  In Blumberg, F.C. (Ed.) Learning by playing: Frontiers of video gaming in education. New York: Oxford University Press.