Direct Manipulation Animation

Research by M. Chan & J. Black 2006

Issue: When forming mental models of systems, how do you support learner’s understandings of structure, purpose and functional relations among system entities.

Can a specialized version of animation provide a superior pathway to knowledge acquistion?

Purpose of Research

Examine presentation formats – narrative, image/visual, and animation to discover differences in learning systems.

Secondary Goal

Show that text, visuals, and animation in a cohesive setup ultimately promotes superior learning.


  • Visuals aid printed word learning (Larkin & Simon, 1987; Mayer & Gallini, 1990; Tversky, 1995).
  • Complex interactivity and content can overburden learner’s cognitive resources (Sweller et al., 1996).
  • Revisit and review the 3 pathways of learning and discussion on haptic learning consequences (above Fig. 1).

Key Term

Direct-manipulation animation (DMA) allows direct interaction (e.g., sliders and buttons), which contrains viewing direction, content pacing, and system parameter relationships (Chan & Black, 2006). DMA in this study specifically pertains to the haptic learning pathway (see lead 3).


Middle school students learning Newtonian mechanics (energy conversion and law of conversion of energy) in three conditions. Learners were given a pretest, retention test (written summary and diagram), “what-if” test (thought experiment: explain and predict), near-transfer task (apply learning to problem-solving tasks), and a far-transfer task (apply learning in novel situation).


  • Text based format (narrative).
  • Text and visual format.
  • Text and animation (DMA).

The format of the learning significantly predicted performance. Format had an above medium effect size of .68. So DMA provided the best learning situation.

As content became more complex, DMA improved performance in learner comphrension, what-if reasoning, problem-solving, and tranfser problems (Chan & Black, 2006).

Again, DMA fosters concurrent sensorimotor feedback while investigating causal interactions and functional relations in the system of interest.

Ultimately, understanding functional relationships (parameter changes interacting with other parameters) is of prime importance when building effective mental models. The DMA condition, involving learning haptically, gave learners an advantage to reasoning and perfroming.

Written on January 18, 2016