Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cognitive Flexibility and the News

I've been reading a chapter from a new book entitled Internet Newspapers: The Making of a Mainstream Media that has some lessons about how people learn from news stories. The chapter, "The Web News Story and Cognitive Flexibility" by Lowrey and Choi, is a bit complicated but essentially it tests a linear format of news telling against a general non-linear story and one that is informed by cognitive flexibility theory.

Lemme steal from the method section to describe this version.

"The CFT news report contained five brief news stories, each approximately 200 to 250 words in length, and included brief "perspective" paragraphs (each between 30 to 100 words) that could be linked from the main story." In other words, flexible learning. This idea and theory comes apparently from education and the idea is that it will improve learning by giving people multiple ways of getting into a piece of writing and by allowing them to shift among bits and pieces.

Did it work? Sorta kinda, but it all really depends on prior knowledge. No surprise there. Prior knowledge (or schematic structure, or awareness, or a host of other labels we put on the concept of what people know prior to exposure to some stimuli) always makes a big difference. And it does here too.

People "liked" the CFT version better, but no difference was seen in credibility. Most of all, a series of interaction effects are seen with prior knowledge. The authors argue those with higher prior knowledge "take control of the reading experience." The CFT has no magical power. It was no better and no worse in recognition of information. So people may like it a bit more, but they apparently don't learn any more from it.

Full disclosure: author Wilson Lowrey received his PhD from UGA, where I teach.

No comments: