Here's an interesting finding - in lesson to teach a mechanical process (here, a toilet flushing), researchers compared how well students learned the steps under 4 learning conditions: 1. studying a static diagram only, 2. watching an animation only, 3. verbal explanation + a diagram (static or animation), and 4. requirement that students make a prediction first, then verbal explanation with a diagram (static or animation). What was the result? Having students make a prediction first by far was the best at having students remember all the steps.
If students are just looking at a diagram, one can't be sure they notice or comprehend the salient features. With animations, too, it seems that certain steps were made more memorable than others. But why was student prediction much better than all the others? When students make their predictions, they use their experience as the basis for their expectations. This is a little like Fermi's teaching style. Apparently he liked to start classes off with students making small bets based on their different scientific predictions. This introduced several good things: a sense of fun and game play, predictive thinking based on existing knowledge, opportunity for new information to connect with existing knowledge, and a surprise / novelty learning if the original guess was wrong.
At least some of this, echoes William James, "when we wish to fix a new thing in either our own mind or a pupil's our conscious effort should not be so much to impress and retain it as to connect it with something else already there. The connecting is the thinking; and if we attend clearly to the connection, the connected thing will certainly be likely to remain within recall."
This also points out the fallacy of thinking that even the most beautifully planned computer-based learning program will result in the right lesson points learned. For virtually any even slightly hard task, it's possible to misunderstand or lose the take-home messages.
Teaching with Diagrams, Animations, Prediction
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Flashes from the Past: A Great Teacher
James Preface to Talks to Teachers