An Overview of Multimedia Learning Principles

An Overview of Multimedia Learning Principles

Tim Pelton
LTAT – UVic – August 2016

For some background you might watch these three videos:
Remember that you can adjust the playback speed to match your needs.

To get a bit of background in learning please view: Born to learn (4:55)

To prepare yourself to understand the reading you might view: How to optimize students' learning? Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (5:30)

This third video is a bit longer but gives nice examples of 13 classic principles of multimedia learning (20:20)
…It’s not perfect —I really don’t care for some of the signaling, but it provides a lot of good examples.

You might also read the following summary of research-based principles for designing multimedia instruction – by Richard Mayer

Here are some other resources if you are interested:
The cognitive theory of multimedia learning

Another summary of mml principles and learning design principles.

Or listen to Mayer tell you about studying Multimedia Learning in his lecture (1h24m)

Finally if you are looking for a comprehensive resource you could refer to Mayer’s 900+ page book “The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning” through the UVic Library at:

Here is my attempt to summarize the principles presented in the above readings and videos. Note that these principles aren’t hard and fast rules – they are tentative, theory-driven, evidence-based, guidelines that are evolving, overlapping and very much dependent upon the learners and material involved.

Reduce extraneous processing (avoid wasting cognitive potential with noise and clutter):

Coherence principle: Eliminate extraneous material, seek consistency & harmony

Signaling principle: Highlight essential material using words or other visual cues

Redundancy principle: Limit text – please don’t present text and read it aloud

Spatial contiguity principle: Put labels and comments adjacent to the visuals that they describe – don’t make the viewer track across the screen to connect things.

Temporal contiguity principle: Keep aural and visual content aligned in time

Manage essential processing (avoid cognitive overload):

Segmenting principle: Break down the instruction into manageable, well-organized chunks so that the learner can assimilate and accommodate new information at a reasonable rate and is prepared for the next material.

Pre-training principle: Introduce new concepts, labels and characteristics before the lesson that connects them so that the learner can keep things sorted out.  Provide an outline too.

Modality principle: Use narration (aural channel) and limit print/text to avoid overloading the visual channel and balance the presentation

Foster generative processing (encourage engagement and effort which leads to understanding and transfer)

Personalization principle: When narrating, use a conversational/inclusive voice rather than a formal voice – so that the audience will feel some connection to you and attend better

Voice principle: Use a real human voice rather than a machine voice

Embodiment principle: Use gestures and movements to help develop social presence

Image principle: Don’t include an image of a person on the screen unless it is adding something (see also: coherence, embodiment, signaling, or personalization)

Design and individual differences principles that are being examined by researchers and some evidence supporting them has been collected (I’ve combined a few):

Cognitive aging/working memory principles: Include structures and mnemonics to assist those with weaker working memory (including older folks)

Collaborative principle: Most people learn better when they collaborate in positive ways (possibly linked to social presence)

Guided discovery principle: Some guidance is helpful in discovery learning  (unless the user is more advanced – then they can guide themselves)

Navigation/Site map principles: People get less flustered when they know where they are and where they are going

Prior knowledge principle: Some principles that work well for novices, impede expert learners

Self-explanation/drawing principles: People learn better when they are challenged to explain or draw their understandings

Worked-out example principle:  Giving complete worked examples supports learner confidence and interest (sometimes – but it can certainly be overdone too)

Animation and interactivity principles: Static visuals/images are often just as effective as animated or interactive visuals

Feedback principle: People learn better when they are provided with timely/substantive feedback on their performance or activity

Multiple representation principle: Sometimes folks learn better from multiple representations – sometimes it can be overwhelming…

Learner control principle: Only advanced/well-motivated/mature learners typically benefit from having control over the sequence and presentation of the material.


Multimedia principle: People learn more effectively from words and graphics than from words or images alone

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