How can our students effectively learn from multimedia information? Part 2

By: marloesvreekamp · 10 February 2017
Category: Educational theory

Part 2: 8 tips for your course design.  


How can we use multimedia information in education in a way that fosters learning? In the blog Processing multimedia information, I presented the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning. The CTML summarised three important assumptions: a) we process information in separate verbal and visual channels; b) We must be active when processing information and c) our brain has a limited capacity. In this blog, I present 8 design principles formulated by Mayer and Moreno[1] that can help you effectively design your education, specifically how you can prevent cognitive overload in your learners.


How can you prevent cognitive overload in your learners?

There is always a certain amount of effort required to process information. We call this effort cognitive load. However, it becomes problematic when the processing demands required by the learning task exceed the processing capacity of the cognitive system – a situation we call cognitive overload. But how can you as an instructor prevent such overload? Mayer and Moreno2  formulated some design principles that you can directly implement in your course design:


  • Coherence principle. Remove extraneous information, for example, background music, a picture to decorate the material. Present only relevant information.
  • Signalling principle. Include cues to signal information to focus the learner’s attention on the important information. For instance, by using arrows or colours.
  • Redundancy principle. Avoid presenting information in multiple formats. This means, avoid presenting a text in a visual and audio format, especially when the text explains a graphic or animation. Because when presenting graphic and written text simultaneously, the learner only uses the visual channel to process information (see dual channel assumption). It is better to explain the graphic verbally (because then, you let the learner use his visual and verbal channel).
  • Spatial contiguity principle. Present related information close to each other. Place printed words near corresponding parts of graphics, or use labels in a graphic.
  • Temporal contiguity principle. Present narration and animation at the same time rather than narration before or after the animation. Present the animation and narration simultaneously. It makes it much easier for the learner to integrate the presented information.
  • Segmenting principle. This principle means that you split the information into meaningful units, instead of a continuous unit. When it is possible (for example, in online education) you can give the learner control; the learner can choose when he/she proceeds to the next information segment.
  • Pre-training principle. Sometimes information is very difficult to understand, because you are unfamiliar with certain concepts or words. It is therefore better to teach the basic concepts or components of the learning material before you explain all the information or the relationships between concepts.
  • Modality principle. Presenting animations with narration is more effective than animations with text. This principle is related to the dual channel assumption. You have two channels to process information. When you use an animation with written text, you only claim the visual channel. When you present the animation with narration, the learner can process more information because he can use both channels.

To summarise, be aware of cognitive processes needed to process multimedia information in the design of your education. If you have an example about how you could use the design principles in your course, please leave a comment below!

[1] Mayer, R. E., & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational psychologist, 38(1), 43-52.



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