The cost of learning

Two things stood out to me recently. One, the cost of developing media materials. Two, how students take different approaches to learning. Can the two be linked?

While I am not going to go as far as saying the two points are linked to each other, it may be true that the flashier the material, the more attractive they appear to the student and the more keen they are to learn. We know that providing high quality materials to students is all important, but is the quality of media materials linked to learning motivation?

The researcher Greville Rumble brings together some interesting conclusions on cost,

  • Print, audio cassettes and pre-recorded instructional television are low cost for courses with student numbers that range from 250-1000 students a year. Radio is low cost on courses with more than 1000 students.
  • Putting up text on the internet costs about £600 per student. As does audio, audio (£1,700) CD-ROM (£13,000), video (£35,000) and TV (£121,000), all per student. Virtual reality materials cost the most and sometimes the costs run up into the millions.
  • It takes more academic time to develop media that will occupy a student for one hour than it takes to develop a one hour face to face lecture. For example it will take at least 50 to 100 hours to prepare a teaching text, 100 hours to prepare a television broadcast, 200 hours to develop computer-aided learning, and 300 hours to develop interactive materials, and this does not include the time for staff to support with technical issues. This is compared to about 2-10 hours to prepare a lecture whether this is creating speech notes or videoing oneself. Academic time is linked to cost.

These costings may seem obvious, however it is good to put things into perspective.

Richardson (2005) talks about how students’ approach to learning may be linked to their perception of such learning. A student may be more enthusiastic to retain the material learnt if they believe in learning as something they should be involved in rather than something that just happens to them. Is this belief enhanced by the use of high quality media material?

A study by Bravo et al (2011) notes that the use of video material has a positive impact on student motivation. Students were more interested in the resource and they could use it to fast forward/rewind and reflect on things learnt. Also, the videos provided graphical representation of complicated concepts. Bravo sums the study up by saying “A picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a thousand pictures, so…a video is worth a million words.”

But is it really worth spending buckets of money on a virtual reality tool if it will only grab the student’s attention for some time? Perhaps using technology is great, but there’s no use spending hours on developing something where just the basics will do.

I don’t have the answer to this yet, stay tuned!

Richardson (2005) Student Approaches to Learning and Teachers’ Approaches to Teaching in Higher Education, [Online]Available at (Accessed 1 May 2013)

Rumble, G. (2001) The Costs and Costing of Networked Learning, JALN Volume 5, Issue 2, The Open University.

2 thoughts on “The cost of learning

  1. Great post highlighting the cost behind producing multimedia learning. I guess two things are important to ensure quality learning – first the purpose of using media should be of greater importance than just a way to get attention; secondly I think that academics should not use up their time developing resources per se they need to work with learning technologists / eLearning professionals who can dedicate time to create this media content. If HE institutions want to provide blended or online learning they need use the right people for the job but it’s not always that easy I guess.

  2. Pingback: Issues with Technology Enhanced Learning | Mastering eLearning

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