Media and symbol systems as related to cognition and learning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Discusses the failure of research on media to deal with media's most essential characteristic--their symbol systems. The general nature of symbol systems is described, followed by a theoretical consideration of how symbol systems relate to cognition and learning. Empirical research is cited to show that media's symbol systems vary as to content, the kinds of knowledge availed, the amount of mental elaboration required, and the mental skills called upon. In addition, studies are described to show that symbolic elements used by media can facilitate the cultivation of mental skills in interaction with individual differences and depth of processing. Two mechanisms are mentioned: overt supplantation, or modeling of a transformation, and activation of skills. It is argued that these and other mechanisms, such as short-circuiting, serve different learners for different ends. (71 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-148
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1979
Externally publishedYes


  • learning
  • media &
  • their symbol systems, cognition &

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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