Tuesday, September 03, 2019

How to develop effective multimedia for learning? The 10 principles of Richard Mayer

Are you looking for principles for creating videos and other learning materials? Before the summer I organized a meetup about interactive video in the Netherlands (with interactive video the viewer can, for example, answer questions or choose what he / she will continue with). It was really an eye-opener for me. In any case, multimedia like video, animations and infographics are becoming increasingly important in online learning and you have to dive into it when you design online learning. But what is a really good video? I often get the question how long a video can be, but of course it's not about the length but about the content. Mayer has developed 10 principles for multimedia learning.

I read the book Multimedia Learning van Richard E. Mayer. The book is entirely based on research and therefore is a slightly boring read, but has a solid basis. I have the crazy habit of reading all books from cover to cover and have therefore read it all. I think you can summarize the practical lessons in one blog post, so you are lucky :). My advice is to read this blog post and not the entire book.

Mayer defines multimedia learning as presenting material in both word and image for the purpose of learning. What I liked a lot is the distinction between:
  • No learning (nothing is withheld from it)
  • Rote learning (people remember but cannot apply it)
  • Meaningful learning (remember and apply)
The goal is hence to facilitate meaningful learning by developing multimedia material. He highlights important principles, all supported by research. I will explain the principles here. After that I will explain that one principle does not work in the context of intercultural trajectories.

The 10 principles of Richard Mayer

Principle 1. The coherence principle The coherence principle states that people learn better when interesting but less relevant words or pictures are taken away from a presentation. Less is more actually. This also applies to background music.

Principle 2. The signaling principle People learn better from multimedia if you help guide the attention of the learner. This can be through the use of arrows, colors, or an element that will be placed under a magnifying glass. I immediately applied this principle to video interviews I was working on by adding the most important words here with text. In my opinion, this is not in contradiction to the following principle:

Principle 3. The redundancy principle This principle means that you should not offer the same text in words and audio: that would be redundant. There is evidence from research: participants who saw pictures and a heard an explanation scored better than participants who received the same pictures and story but also had the explanation written in text. For video this simply means that you should not subtitle with the same text as voice.

Principle 4. The spatial contiguity principle People learn more easily when the accompanying words and images are close to each other. We are just lazy people and would prefer to be offered everything on a silver platter :). We don't like to search for the explanation.

Principle 5. The temporal contiguity principle And this also applies to time. It is more convenient to see the pictures about the origin of a storm at the same time when a voice explains it, instead of first seeing the pictures and then the explanation (or vice versa). This explains the success of animation and other instructional videos.

Principle 6. The segmenting principle Multimedia learning is more effective when the material is divided into different segments and learners have control over following the steps. This is often the case with interactive video, but can also simply be done by dividing a 15-minute video into 3-4 videos which allows people to choose when they continue with the next one. Here, of course, we see the power of interactive video. Although you may also argue that a good question in a video has a signal function.

Principle 7: The pre-training principle People are better able to learn from multimedia when they already know the most important concepts. We applied this, for example, by ensuring that before a client SPOC (Small Private Online Course) starts, the participants can go through an e-learning with the basic knowledge. This means that everyone is aware of the most important concepts and we can go into depth during the SPOC.

Principle 8: The modality principle People learn deeper from images combined with spoken word than from images and written word. This means that spoken explanation with an animation works better than all text on the screen. Indeed I sometimes see animations with text only and I always have the feeling that it would be faster if I could simply read the text. This principle is actually just a little too logical for me: it says that you should use both eye and ear smartly, right?

Principle 9: The multimedia principle People learn better from word and image from from text only. Yes ... so visualizing helps! Fortunately but otherwise we would have to go back to uploading PDFs as online learning. Uhmmmm I really saw that once? An online course where you had to download and read around 20 different pdfs in Moodle ...

Principle 10: The personalization principe I find the personalizing principle the most sympathetic somehow. It says that people learn better when a conversational style is used instead of a formal style. This has always been a basic principle in our courses: make it personal and engage in an online conversation. Mayer translates it as: in spoken text in an animation use direct speech: you, your. Furthermore, a friendly voice helps. Good to know: research shows that the face of the speaker (eg with a screencast) does not automatically help for better understanding. This would help only if the face contains relevant information, for example due to facial expressions.

Which principle does not apply in an intercultural context?

Yes, what do you think? It's the redundancy principle. I experienced an exception to this rule which makes sense to me. After reading the book, I immediately wanted to apply my knowledge to a video interview, so I had an argument not to subtitle the video in the same language as the interview (English). However, it is an intercultural context, with many non-native English speakers. It appears that in this case people really like literal subtitles, because the accents are not always easy to understand. After seeing the video with subtitles, I got more out of it myself, although I'm quite used to different accents in English. That brings me to the boundary conditions.

The boundary conditions. When do the principles apply? 

In each chapter there is a discussion of the 'boundary conditions'. These are the circumstances in which the principle applies. For example, you can deduce from the examples in the book that a lot of research has been done using instructional materials. The example of explaining the occurrence of thunder and lightning is widely used. Many of the principles apply most strongly to inexperienced participants and complex material. I think this is something to keep in mind, for example, more experienced learners can handle more superfluous information.

So for instance, for the redundancy principle the condition is that this is especially true for groups who speak the same language, as mother tongue. Mayer has not investigated whether this also applies to non-native speakers. It is therefore important to realize that there are always exceptions. Don't apply the principles too rigidly. 


What can you learn from Richard Mayer? You can benefit a lot from these principles if you develop learning materials on complex issues for starting learners. Provide a clear message, visualize where possible. Use voice. Avoid duplicating the same information. Make it personal and make sure learners have control over the speed to go through the material.

PS. Do you live in the Netherlands? Want to learn about multimedia? Participate in onze eigen leergang over blended leren