AECT Handbook of Research

Table of Contents

34: Instructional Technology and Attitude Change

34.1 Introduction
34.2 The Nature of Attitudes
34.3 Theories of Attitude Change
34.4 Attitudes and Behavior
34.5 Measuring Attitudes
34.6 Attitudes and Instructional Media - The Literature
34.7 Conclusion: Designing Mediated Messages for Attitude Change and the Model of Cumulative Effect.


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34. Instructional Technolgy and Attitude Change

Michael Simonson & Nancy Maushak
Iowa State University

"A companion's words of persuasion are effective. " -The Iliad, Homer, c. 700 BC

Attitudes are learned "predispositions to respond." Attitudes serve to provide direction to subsequent actions. Because attitudes are acquired they can be changed fairly predictably (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991). Increasingly, instructional media have been used to deliver attitude change messages. This chapter will discuss the use of media to present instructional messages that persuade instead of inform. Unfortunately, when media are used for attitude change, the relationship between the medium of delivery and the message of persuasion is unclear.

Chaiken and Egly (1976) reported on the results of what now is considered a classic study of attitude change using media. It demonstrated the difficulty of drawing conclusions about mediated instruction and attitude change. In their experiment, subjects were exposed to either an easy- or difficult-to-comprehend message that was presented in written, audiotaped, or videotaped form. 'Me easy version of the message, which dealt with a dispute between a company and its union, used short sentences with simple vocabulary. The difficult version used complex sentences and sophisticated vocabulary. The results showed that in the difficult message treatment, both attitude change and learning were greater when the message was presented in written form. For the easy-to-comprehend message, a different pattern emerged. Comprehension was high no matter what delivery medium was used, but the amount of attitude change was greatest when the message was videotaped, slightly less when it was audiotaped, and least when the message was written (Table 34- 1).

Apparently, the amount of attitude change was related to the difficulty of the message content and to the delivery medium. Chaiken and Egly discussed why this differential effect occurred, but they did not explain the apparent media effect. Results such as this one demonstrate the difficulty of developing conclusions or offering guidelines about the persuasive impact of messages delivered using media. Actually, any careful study of the literature leads the Serious, if conservative, reviewer to conclude that there is little if any "medium effect," and to agree with Clark (1994, 1983) that media are "mere vehicles" that do not directly influence attitudes any more than they do achievement. However, instructional media are often used to deliver persuasive messages. There is a wealth of interesting and useful research examining attitudes and media that can be applied by the educator. This literature will be reviewed, criticized, and summarized in this chapter.

34.1 Introduction

Attitude change and instructional technology will be discussed as follows. First, the nature of attitudes will be explained. Attitudes will be defined and the characteristics of attitude constructs will be presented. Also included will be a rationale for why attitude change is an important concern of those interested in instructional technology. Second, there will be a review of the theories of attitude change. Understanding some of the various theories of attitude change is fundamental to any discussion of the relationship between persuasion and instructional technology. Third, a review of the long-continuing debate about the relationship between attitudes and behaviors will be included. Historically, many have felt that attitudes are not related to actions, but others have taken a more moderate approach. This debate will be summarized.

Next, an overview of the techniques for measuring attitudes will be provided. It is obvious from any review of the literature that attitude measurement is done poorly. Researchers often do not use even the most basic procedures for effective measurement when they investigate attitude variables. Generally accepted procedures for measuring attitudes will be presented. Fifth, there will be a review of previous attempts to organize the attitude change and instructional technology literature. At least two schemes (Simonson, 1979; Bednar & Levie, 1993) for explaining the use of instructional technology for attitude change have been proposed and will be discussed.

Finally, a set of six guidelines for designing persuasive instructional messages will be offered. These guidelines will be linked using a "Model of Cumulative Effect" that proposes a method for improving the likelihood of attitude change. The model is an attempt to provide the practitioner with techniques for building a persuasive message that is to be delivered with media.

It is also important to explain what is not covered in this discussion of attitude change and instructional technology. First, the very important and rich literature about motivation is not reviewed. Motivation is obviously related to attitude change, especially to most of the current theories used to predict behaviors, such as the theory of reasoned action and the theory of planned action. However, motivation is a broad topic that requires its own discussion. (see 32.5.5).

TABLE 34-1. Attitude Change and Retention of Message Content as a Function of Medium and Message Difficulty (Chaiken & Egly, 1976)

Easy Message
Difficult Message


Attitude change

Number of messages recalled

Number of short answer items correct

Perceived message difficulty

























Note: Higher numbers indicate greater attitude change; message comprehension, and perceived message difficulty.

Second, attitude toward media or technology is presented only peripherally. This is because the main concern of this review is to discuss persuasive instructional messages presented with media. In other words, attitude change toward the content of messages is the focus of this chapter, not attitude toward the medium itself. Finally, this review should not be considered a comprehensive examination of the extremely broad body of literature related to attitudes and attitude change. Rather, it is a handbook-type summary of the literature that relates, at least tangentially, to the chapter's theme: how to design messages using media when attitude changes are desired. For a more complete review of attitude literature, one of the recently published books on this topic should be consulted (e.g. Eagly & Chaiken, 1993; O'Keefe, 1990).

Updated August 3, 2001
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