How can our students effectively learn from multimedia information? Part 1

By: marloesvreekamp · 1 February 2017
Category: Educational theory

Part 1: Processing multimedia information.

Last week I watched a video about an educational model. I wanted to learn more about the model, but it was very confusing. The video consisted of written text, music, spoken words, pictures and a video of the lecturer. I didn’t know what I had to focus on: on the pictures or the lecturer; on the written music or the spoken words? After watching the video I knew a little bit more about the model, but I couldn’t explain it to you. There was too just much information!

How do we process multimedia information?

Two researchers, Richard Mayer and Roxana Moreno[1], figured out how to use multimedia information to foster meaningful learning. They summarised their research in the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (CTML). The CTML is based on three assumptions:


  1. Dual channel assumption:


We acquire information through our eyes and ears. Our brain processes this in a visual and verbal channel. In other words: all the information we see is processed in the visual channel; and all the information we hear is processed in the verbal channel. These two kinds of information reinforce each other. Therefore, it is very useful to use multimedia information in education. We call this the Multimedia Principle.


  1. Active processing assumption:


When we want to learn something, we should be active. In multimedia learning, at least five cognitive processes are required. The first involves selecting verbal information and the second selecting visual information to further process out of the mountain of data. After selecting the information, we must organise it. We make mental pictures and models of the information. This process takes place in working memory. In addition, it is supposed that the selecting and organising processes may be guided partially by prior knowledge activated by the learner. After selecting and organising, we integrate the information with prior knowledge from our long-term memory. By doing this, we can use the stored information in new situations.


  1. Limited capacity assumption:


We are continually exposed to huge quantities of information. But, it is not possible to remember all this information. We call this the limited capacity assumption. There is only a limited amount of processing capacity available in the verbal and visual channel. When there is too many information to process, we call it cognitive overload. Teachers must prevent their students from experiencing cognitive overload.


In conclusion, it can be very useful to use multimedia information in education. However, in this blog, it became clear that it is very important to be aware of how learners process information when you design your education. For example, it can be very effective to activate prior knowledge, while on the other hand, we should guard our students from cognitive overload. In the next blog, I present 8 design principles for using multimedia information in education that foster learning!

[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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