A Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning: Implications for Design

A Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning: Implications for Design Principles is an article authored by Richard E. Mayer and Roxana Moreno are from the University of California, Santa Barbara. The article discusses the necessary research required to adequately design multimedia learning.  The aim of the text is to present findings on research-based theory in instructional design.  The main argument being that effective instructional design should be based on research-based theory into how students learn.  The article also reviews 5 principles of multimedia design to extend on the argument further.

The five principles explored in this paper are very similar to one another and the repetition can prove effective but also sub-what ineffective in that the exploration of material and discussion of theories does not progress to new supporting evidence or concepts.  All the theories and principles seem to come down to a very simple philosophy summed up by simply stating that one concept must be taught with two mediums simultaneously to have greatest impact on the individual learner.   It was also stated in that article that “corresponding words and pictures must be in working memory at the same time in order to facilitate the construction of referential links between them”, so it would appear that in addition to working with two mediums, information should be actively processed in the working memory to continue to bring about best outcomes.  The third principle did provide food for thought, however, with the argument that in a multimedia presentation, words need to be expressed audibly rather than in a visual format.

Therefore, if a presentation was to be given on road safety for example, all words should be heard not seen.  Sweller et al. call this the Split-Attention principle and expand on the illustrations given to further show the validity for the principle in reference to the cognitive load theory principles.  If the words of a multimedia presentation are given in narrative format audibly then they will be processed in the verbal information processing systems and the visuals in the visual information processing systems, thereby preventing cognitive overload. (p. 4)

Whilst brief, the explanation given for the individual differences principle did provoke more thoughts on the effect multimedia learning has on individual learners.  Learners will have different skills, levels of understanding and possess very different sets of background knowledge, thus affecting their needs in multimedia learning arenas.  The final principle begs the issue of coherence and consistency and addresses the need to keep to the same principles of design in multimedia learning environments to maintain full level of cognitive abilities, and subsequent achievement.

The article was brief and made some valid and quality research-based statements, informing a developing knowledge and understanding of instructional design principles in engaging learners.  It was a well-written argument with clear and simple-to-understand examples. More expansion and illustration on these concepts would have provided further opportunities to develop a deeper understanding and knowledge of design principles.  The principles do provide a strong starting point for developing multimedia learning experiences.

Mayer, R. E.; R. Moreno (1998). “A Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning: Implications for Design Principles”. http://www.unm.edu/~moreno/PDFS/chi.pdf.

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