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Multimedia Learning Principles

I am just two months away from completing my MSc in Instructional Design and Educational Technology. Throughout the degree course I have realised that everything I thought I knew about designing meaningful online learning experience was wrong or at least flawed.

My early iterations of online learning contained jazzy videos with music, animations, text, images, video and voice. Sometimes all at the same time. The quantity of multimedia tools for me, seemed to be better than quality.

I realised that unless multimedia learning is driven by the science of how we learn, it will be a disengaging and flawed experience for the learner.

Creating is fun, but research-driven creation is better. I write a lot about creativity and how creating within constraints can be a fruitful experience. One such constraint is using research.

Rather than that whizzing text, Bitmojis or text filled and narrated Power Points (all of which have very limited impact on learning and are not conducive to learner engagement), using research about the science behind multimedia learning will avoid wasting time creating educational content that just doesn't land in terms of learning and is actually a proxy for learning. One reason for this is that the learner is a passive passenger in the learning as all that is required is that they listen to the sage on the stage. Busy presentations of concepts can disconnect the learner from the concepts that are being taught. When the learner is made to process extraneous content, animations, text, voice and any other bells and whistles at the same time, the result can be that they will disconnect in more ways that one.

how to teach online, science of learning

In Multimedia Learning, Third Edition, Richard E. Mayer takes an evidence-based approach to improving education using well-designed multimedia instruction.

He reviews 15 principles of multimedia instructional design that are based on more than 200 experimental research studies and grounded in a cognitive theory of how people learn from words and graphics.

Here is a simple overview of Mayer's 15 Principles of multimedia instructional design:

Mayer's 15 Principles of Multimedia Learning
Mayer's 15 Principles of Multimedia Learning

My takeaways from Mayer's research are as follows:

  1. Avoid anything unnecessary on a page/presentation.

  2. Using your voice is good; using your face is unnecessary as it doesn't impact learning.

  3. Keep it short.

Ultimately, anything that looks nice and seems fun but does not contribute to learning should be left out. This feels harsh to say especially when time and effort is taken by some instructors to create aesthetically driven and pleasing experiences. It is well-intentioned when instructors spend time creating detailed PowerPoint slides that they narrate and click through either in person or online, but the creation of learning experiences must place the learner at the centre if there is to be any sense of meaningful learning...and that means that they should be able to be an active participant in their learning.

Listening and processing text, images, video, the teacher's face, their Bitmoji and hyperlinks to videos results in cognitive overload and disengagement of the learner from the content and skills that are being taught. Empathetic understanding of where your learner is, how much they can cope with and what you can omit is what should drive instructional design, at least in education. The processing capacity of individual learners needs to be understood before instructional design can begin.

Using Universal Design for Learning (read my blog on UDL here) can help to address this issue. Providing multiple iterations of the same content can widen access to the message that you are trying to convey.

I've made hundreds of videos and online learning experiences over the past 12 months. Some are better than others, but I have learned along the way that it is essential to understand that sometimes what learners and instructors think is learning is an illusion of learning. This can lead to over estimations by the instructor of what has been accomplished and by the learner who may believe that they have a deeper understanding of a topic or skill than they have in reality. If the illusion of learning is not considered by the instructor it will lead to the continued development of the same mode of delivery and stunt the progress and mastery learning of the learner.

In order to demonstrate some of Mayer's Principles of Multimedia Learning, I wanted to share a video I made. This video is just over a minute long and though storytelling it conveys what I believe to be a powerful message about the meaning of life. The video begins with a basic idea: the circle. This is an understood shape by most ages of people and so allows immediate access to the concept of the video. With the average attention span of an individual being around the 8 second mark, no viewer will drop off in this time frame because of a lack of understanding:

For the most part, the video includes moving images and voice narration. There is only one short segment with text. As this text appears, I speak the same words so that the learner is only processing one idea. This design strategy is driven by Mayer's Voice principle and his Redundancy principle which requires instructors to reduce extraneous processing. The short text shown on the screen is also framed so that the learner can see this is being signalled as important. This links to Mayer's Signalling principle and the Temporal Contiguity Principle which advises to present corresponding narration and animation simultaneously not successively. I do not appear in the video because it would not have added anything to the learning and may have served as a distraction as learners try to watch my facial cues, listen to my voice and process a moving image or text at the same time. I use a conversational tone and use 'You', employing the Personalisation principle.

You may have also noticed that the symbol of the circle is repeated multiple times in the majority of frames which perhaps subliminally reinforces the concept that I am trying to convey. In this sense I am signalling the circle as a clear cue throughout the piece.

If you are interested in reading more about instructional design take a look at this collection of my blog posts.

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