Leveraging Multimedia Based Learning Objects to Enhance Online Learning

by John Muehl

The advent of online learning has created a demand for unique ways to deliver course content above and beyond textual materials.


The emergence of multimedia based Learning Objects (LOs) in the early 2000’s created much debate about the practicability of delivering curriculum through multimedia: a combination of imagery, text, audio, video, and interactivity in an academic realm. Can the depth and rigor of collegiate level subject matter be delivered through media originally designed for entertainment? There are advocates who believe that multimedia is certainly viable as a teaching and learning tool, and there are detractors who believe that learners should read and write in depth. This webpage is designed to advocate and demonstrate the incorporation of multimedia based learning objects (LOs) for use in the online classroom.

The Development Process

The development of multimedia learning objects is a collaborative process similar to the development of an online course. The Faculty or Subject Matter Expert (SME) provides the content for the LO. An Instructional Designer (ID) assists the faculty member in deciding on the focus for the LO. Unless the SME or ID has multimedia development skills, a third party developer produces and deploys the LO. These three entities collaborate in the design, development, and delivery of the finished product.

Focusing the Learning Object

Multimedia can be used to support the learning process in many ways for instance telling a story, explaining a concept, simulating a procedure, demonstrating a process, comparing materials, and/or testing the learner’s knowledge. Any of these approaches may be combined, but keeping the focus narrow helps the learner concentrate on the task at hand. If the content requires a combination of these approaches, it’s best to break the content into smaller segments and developing several LOs concentrated on a single approach. See the following examples.

A. Storytelling

Storytelling plays a central role in our lives and has been used throughout history as a powerful tool for teaching and learning. Digital storytelling combines the elements of text, images, video, audio, and interactive links to additional documentation. An appropriately designed digital story can provide a framework for deep understanding of the academic content. This presentation of “The Foundation and Infrastructure of Today’s Heath Care System” demonstrates the digital storytelling process. Notice how the presentation uses multiple media devices to reveal the evolution of health care from the beginning of time to the present. It is packaged into a focused linear narrative with opportunities for the learner to explore some of the concepts in depth by clicking links to more detailed information.

B. Explaining a Concept

“Explainer” learning objects are designed to authenticate an idea, clarify and abstraction, or exhibit a phenomenon. This presentation on Digital Color Theory designed for digital art courses uses a variety of imagery, animation, voice, and interactivity to accomplish all of the above. It also provides opportunities for learners to check what they have learned periodically throughout the presentation (See “Knowledge Check” below).

C. Simulation

A simulation learning object is designed to imitate the key characteristics, behavior, functions, and properties of a process or system. This first simulation developed for Human Anatomy and Physiology Lab is a replica of the process for testing the “Action of Buffers.” The learning object is an exact replication of the process as performed in an actual laboratory. Simulations can also magnify a molecular or microscopic process that can’t be seen with the naked eye. In this animation of the “Active Transport Process,” the viewer can see how molecules move across a cell membrane without the use of a microscope. Hovering over various parts of the animation identifies various elements within the animation.

D. How To

The how to learning object needs little explanation. The how to LO provides step by step directions complete with visuals to carry out a process from beginning to end. It also provides the ultimate payoff by helping the viewer fulfill the desired goal. Type “how to” into a search engine and you will find a wealth of advice from adding fractions to zipping a file. This how to video demonstrates the process for “Creating a Storyboard” for a digital video course assignment. Comparisons Comparison learning objects are used to show how objects or processes correlate or contrast. This can be accomplished using split screens or interactive devices as demonstrated in this “Body Condition Feline” LO designed for a veterinary nursing course.

E. Knowledge Check

The knowledge check is often used in conjunction with LOs, or it can stand alone. Knowledge checks are typically used to allow learners to gauge how well they are grasping the material as they progress through an LO and are ungraded as shown in the color theory example above. It can also be used as an assessment device that is tracked and the score can be transferred to a learning management system for a grade. Knowledge checks can be designed from scratch as well. This “Ancient Mesopotamia and Persia – Artistic Conventions Game” LO designed for an art history course tracks the user’s progress as they identify different artistic conventions by selecting elements within works of art where specific conventions are apparent and gives them a score at the end.


In 2015, TIME magazine published an article titled, “You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish.” According to a study from Microsoft Corporation, as humans have become more attached to screens, their attention spans have decreased. Consequently, learners today are less likely to read large blocks of text to obtain and remember information. They are more likely to view a short video or engage in a well-designed interactive presentation to understand complex concepts or theories. Both the detractors and advocates of multimedia based LOs have valid arguments. If ambiguous, LOs may very well exhaust and confuse the learner. If focused, LOs can invigorate and enlighten the learner.

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Codel, H., & Miller, J. (Development Facilitators). (2017). Body Condition Feline. Retrieved from St. Petersburg College Learning Object Repository
McSpadden, K., (2015, May 15). You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish. TIME. Retrieved from http://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/
Muehl, J. (Development Facilitator). (2018). Digital Color Theory. Retrieved from St. Petersburg College Learning Object Repository
Muehl, J. (Development Facilitator). (2018). Creating a Storyboard. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=5EccetY7364
Naravane, A. (Development Facilitator). (2018). Action of Buffers. Retrieved from St. Petersburg College Learning Object Repository
Naravane, A. (Development Facilitator). (2019). Active Transport Process. Retrieved from St. Petersburg College Learning Object Repository
Shellhorn, W. (Development Facilitator). (2017). The Foundation and Infrastructure of Today’s Heath Care System. Retrieved from St. Petersburg College Learning Object Repository
Trentinella, R. (Development Facilitator). (2019). Ancient Mesopotamia and Persia – Artistic Conventions Game. Retrieved from St. Petersburg College Learning Object Repository
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John M. Muehl EdD, MFA is classically trained in digital art with a Master of Fine Arts degree in Computer Art and holds a Doctor of Education degree in Organizational Leadership with a specialization in Educational Technology. John has taught at every level of education in online, blended, and traditional classrooms. He is currently an instructional Design Technician at St Petersburg College as well as an adjunct instructor of digital media and instructional design. He has been producing multimedia to enhance his classroom and the learning process and enjoys helping others learn the process of digital media design and development.