Effective Multimedia Teaching

I was drawn to this topic by the book Multimedia Learning (Mayer 2009). Mayer has broken down multimedia learning into 24 principles, sub dividing into 13 classical principles and 11 advanced principles of multimedia learning. Developing the cognitive theory of multimedia learning, his theory as summarised by David (2015) states that learners have 2 separate channels (auditory and visual) for processing information, each channel has limited capacity and that learning is an active process. 

Figure 1 highlights the 3 important elements which are the core of all of the classical principles. It could be argued that the use of this figure is adding a distracting element or that it is emphasising important and relevant information. What do you think? Please comment below.

I have witnessed the encouragement for teachers to include more multimedia such as video, webinars and podcasts into their lessons. But I have questioned; is this a fad or is it a helpful resource. My initial thoughts are that; it’s excellent, a supportive addition to lessons which enhances student’s different learning styles, considering diversity and allowing students to learn at a different pace, level and using a variety of content. But I have seen multimedia done badly and reading Mayer’s theory I have now realised why.

The major reason multimedia is sometimes unsuccessful, is highlighted by Mayer (2009) “each channel has a limited capacity”. This is supported by John Sweller’s (1998) previous research on cognitive load theory which describes “the need to apply sound instructional design principles based on our knowledge of the brain and memory”.

Back in the day of lecturers with traditional blackboards, students relied on their auditory learning style and the odd visual cue on the blackboard, and if he/she was a good teacher the odd gesture (principle number 12 (Mayers 2009)).

Now we are supporting our teaching with PowerPoints, animations, videos, audio, subtitles and more. This is a fantastic development but as I have witnessed from my teaching and observation of others, sometimes the use of multimedia can overwhelm the learners and be a distraction to their learning rather than an enhancement.

Mayers (2009) classic principles gives clear direction to how multimedia should be used.

I have selected the following 5 key principles to apply to my teaching:

Principle #2 Redundancy– does a video really need video + subtitles + audio, too many visual simulations.

Principle #3 Coherence– Remove irreverent material such as PowerPoint backgrounds which distract from the students learning.

Principle #4 Signalling & cueing– give graphic emphasis by highlighting keywords in italic, bold or zoom.

Principle #11 Voice – this is important as I have a British accent which is often understood in New Zealand, but I need to slow down my speaking as most of my students are international. This is especially important when I’m doing a video or webinar.

Principle #12 Embodiment– generally I am quite good at this as I do a lot of gestures and pointing towards elements within a presentation to emphase key points but I need to ensure this is not a distraction and I am giving clear direction with my gestures.


Reference List

David, L. (2015) Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (Mayer) in Learning Theories, Retrieved from https://www.learning-theories.com/cognitive-theory-of-multimedia-learning-mayer.html.

eLearningExpert (2015, June 14). What is Multimedia Learning [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/q6HuPEBwXqc

Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia Learning. Cambridge University Press.

Sweller, J., Van Merrienboer, J. J., & Paas, F. G. (1998). Cognitive architecture and instructional design. Educational psychology review10(3).


Featured image: authors own

Figure 1 Core of the Mayer’s 13 Principles. Image (Authors Own) adapted from content taken from eLearningExpert (2015).