Learning is fun with a multi-media player. It tells the story, illustrates the text and provides the sound effects. Pallab Ghosh reports.
Those anxious to stay one step ahead of the Joneses will have to make space in their living-rooms for the latest in high technology status symbols: the next big thing in consumer electronics has arrived. The Americans have dubbed it an "interactive multi-media player" and suggest, even more typically, that it be used for "edutainment". According to the hype, consumer multi-media opens up a "new world of education and entertainment opportunities" and the multi-media player is supposedly "a living book that you can control". It can not only tell you a story but also provide sound effects, illustrate the text and play music: just the thing for a thrill-hungry public already bored with its CD and video players.
The American company Commodore is the first to have launched an interactive multi-media player which, at £600, is clearly aimed at the mass computer market. Hard on Commodore's heels is Philips with its own version due out in the next few months. And not so far behind them is a plethora of large companies itching to get a slice of this potentially lucrative market.
Interactive multi-media is a fusion of computer, broadcast and compact disc technologies. It means that text, photographs, graphics, sound and video can all be stored on one CD. Because the information is stored digitally it can be accessed and controlled by software, making it easy to orchestrate the vast amount of data stored on the CD.
One innovative application soon to be released by a Gloucester-based company, Art of Memory, is a disc aimed at giving literature students a greater insight into the life and works of William Shakespeare. The presentation is based around excerpts from a Thames Television production of Twelfth Night. As the viewer watches the play, the text scrolls up on the computer screen as the scene progresses. The viewer can stop at any point to access a wealth of background information on characters, historical material and the politics of the day, all fully illustrated with colour prints and animations.
The technology's great attraction is that it encourages learning by exploration. Viewers can dwell on details that interest them and make their own links with other information in the database. It is a process that not only makes learning more fun but probably more effective. A demonstration Japanese lesson available on the Apple Macintosh - though not "true" multi-media - illustrates the point well.
The programme shows an animation of people chatting at a bus queue; a bus arrives, people get on, pay and the bus moves on. The programme then plays back some of the key Japanese phrases and tests comprehension with a multiple choice of possible translations. Answer correctly and you are treated to a reverie of serene Japanese pipe music, no doubt illustrative of great depth and wisdom. Get the answer wrong and you are humiliated in front of your colleagues with a loud, unceremonious "Boing!" sound.