Rich Media: Redefined for Teaching & Learning Online

Posted on Sep 13, 2014

Rich Media: Redefined for Teaching & Learning Online

What is Rich Media?

Trying to define rich media is like trying to define fudge.

Everyone knows fudge when they see it, but it can vary enough in its form that it’s hard to say exactly what makes fudge “fudge”. Is it the ingredients? Texture? Shape? No sooner do you attempt to reduce and purify its meaning will you find arguments to expand it.

Defining rich media is no less a challenge. Online advertising and e-learning claim rich media as an interactive multimedia object published in an online venue where it is programmed to respond to user input. Their definition of rich media is composed of a combination of text, images, animation, video, audio, and affordances for user interaction – all posted in an online channel.

Our definition of rich media takes their definition, breaks it down into its components, rebuilds it with broader space for each medium, and then expands the notion of interaction to include online social media. Thus, we take common academic views of “media”, and then describe what makes each of them “rich”, in a pedagogical vernacular.

Rich media is a class of media systems with favorable capabilities to communicate or organize information so that learners can form meaning or present it.

Rich media is a broad set of communication modes, channels, and resources to be used under certain optimal conditions. We coalesce them into a class of media systems used in teaching and learning online, comprised of:

  1. Multimedia with optimal characteristics to stimulate sensory experiences and cognitive activity analogous to real world experiences and phenomena, used as a cognitive guide.
  2. Social network systems that provide users access to and connectivity/collaboration with others, with the capability to engage with content in a way that fosters encounters with multiple facets of knowledge.
  3. Web-based tools employed to match or approximate the tools used in authentic practice to search for and organize information, such as to curate, tag, share, classify, annotate, create, publish, and edit content.

Why define Rich Media?

Online courses are an aggregate of several forms of communication – some with longer more familiar histories than others.

For example, we have become accustomed to engagement with motion picture media for as long as there has been film and television. However, the notion of virtual online communities and its social, ethical, and affective conventions are quite new.  Socially constructed knowledge as a viable alternative to traditional book knowledge is still on the theoretical forefront.

There is abundant potential for “communication pathologies” in online learning. The semantic thinness of online text can lead to ambiguity of meaning. Transactional distance can lead to disconnection from others. And struggles with the mechanics of an online learning management system can lead to frustration and surrender.

To combine these media into an integrated communication system imposes the need for proficiency in a spectrum of media literacy “dialects”. Further, by layering purposeful, structured, time-imperative, and costly instruction on top of this system simply adds pressure for the online learning experience to be optimized: coherent, intuitive, and disentropic.

If we suggest that rich media is a useful enhancement for teaching and learning online – or perhaps compensation for the limitations of text media alone – we had best understand what is meant by it, why we should use it, and how it works best in achieving an instructional goal.

Where do we begin?

It is fair to say that higher education is currently living the transition from being an institution rooted in ground-based teaching to something more like a combination of F2F and online (with some degree programs fully online).

Instructional designers and academic administrators may find the Rich Media Playbook, here in the ID Module blog, to be a useful starting point to build a case for integrating rich media into the online course design and development life cycle, and including it as part of the normal lead instructor/ID conversation.

Continue to the Rich Media Playbook full text

The narrated slideshow below is intended for an audience of experienced higher education online instructors who are at the stage in their professional development where she or he can conceive online instructional strategies beyond the basics.

The presentation makes the case for using rich media as an integral part of designing and developing online courses. But not because rich media is “cool”, but because using rich media offers advantages for students in several ways: to help in understanding things better because the mode of communication is more naturally able to convey certain information, to introduce professional communities of practice, and to build experience with critically important digital tools.

introduction to rich meduia

Creative Commons License
Introduction to Using Rich Media in Online Instruction by Steve Covello is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at

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