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A blog by Jason Barker on multimedia Bible study development for the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Youth Ministry and the Orthodox Christian Network.

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    Addressing Comprehension Issues with Online Bible Studies

    Posted on Friday, December 15, 2006 at 8:53 PM by Jason Barker

    As I noted in my previous post, there is a general move in online publishing away from extended text documents to reduced text and increased audio-visual media. In other words:

    1. Online publications are increasingly avoiding long, detailed articles about a subject, and instead provide shorter pieces with less-complicated sentence and paragraph structure, and correspondingly less detail.
    2. Online publications are increasingly relying upon audio and video elements to not only support their articles, but instead as a primary content medium.

    Regarding the first point, readers approach online text as a medium to be scanned rather than read. As Steve Krug explains in his book Don't Make Me Think,

    What [readers] actually do most of the time (if we’re lucky) is glance at each new page, scan some of the text, and click on the first link that catches their interest or vaguely resembles the thing they’re looking for. There are usually large parts of the page that they don’t even look at.

    For example, a study by Stanford University and the Poynter Institute found that, in a typical 34-minute session of reading online news, readers chose to read three times as many news briefs as full articles, chose articles from 24 different categories of news, and read material from an average of six different - and as many as 19 - publications. In other words, online readers tend to read widely, but shallowly.

    In a vicious circle, such quick, shallow reading is provoking online publishers (and, increasingly, print publishers) to publish simple and informal documents using a very limited vocabulary. The problem, as Jonathan Follett states, is

    There’s no doubt that the writing that forms the core of our conversations and relationships has changed. The long missives and artful correspondence of letter writing have given way to new forms. Short pieces of informal writing are now the norm in both the professional and personal areas of our lives: e-mail, instant messaging, blogging, and others. The rules that govern this new writing style have developed quickly, in a rapidly changing technological environment. In the process of accommodating these new conventions, we’ve learned to abandon detail in our writing, and to celebrate brevity. We’re more connected in some ways—commerce is quick and easy, and transactions are lightning fast. But we may actually be communicating and understanding less, just skimming along the surface.

    Additionally affecting the publication of online text publications is the second point: the increasing online use of audio and video. For example, Online video viewing increased 18 percent from October 2005 - March 2006. According to comScore, American Internet users started 3.7 billion video content streams in March 2006, with each user watching an average of 100 minutes of video content during the month. Similarly, the Consumer Internet Barometer found that 10 percent of American Internet users watch television programs online.

    The problem is not online video itself: many studies have shown that curricula which combines textual and audio-video elements are more effective in enhancing learner comprehension than either medium alone. The problem is that online users, when engaging in shallow reading and/or watching short video clips, are too frequently deriving the benefits of neither medium.

    In my next post I'll examine some of the ways in which I develop our Bible studies to address the problems and possibilities of current media usage trends.

    Posted in Miscellaneous