Richard Mayer on Multimedia Learning

Richard Mayer on Multimedia Learning

Richard Mayer on Multimedia Learning

Multimedia elements such as videos, animation, graphics and voice narrations impact the learning process, and with the advances of technology, it is becoming easier to incorporate these elements into the classroom and in eLearning. In this post, I share with you some insights about the cognitive theory of Dr. Richard Mayer on multimedia learning. The ultimate goal is to identify design learning strategies to increase learning with the effective use of digital media elements.

Why this Theory is Important?

Including multimedia elements into the instruction have to be carefully planned, designed, and developed in order to enhance Multimedia Elementsthe learning experience. It can be tempting to add multimedia elements in learning experiences simply to show visually engaging learning formats, but as instructional designers, we need to think if a particular multimedia element such as videos, podcasts, and graphics are real contributors towards the achievement of particular learning objectives.

If those multimedia elements are for decoration purposes only, then they can be detrimental to the learning process and should be removed from the materials to avoid distractions and losing learners’ attention to the important information in the learning process.

So before putting any multimedia element into our learning solutions, let’s think first. Is this element making a contribution to the learning process? Or is it simply for decoration purposes?

I’m not against decorating our learning solutions to capture learner’s attention, but sometimes if it is too much. It can be overwhelming and overload the learner. We want them to concentrate and stay focus on what’s important.

What is the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning?

Dr. Richard Mayer is an American educational psychologist who has made significant contributions to theories of cognition and learning, especially in the design of educational multimedia. Mayer’s best known contribution to the field of educational psychology is multimedia learning theory.

The cognitive theory of multimedia learning is the foundation for the multimedia learning research, and it consists of 3 principles of cognitive science to help guide the understanding on how people learn with multimedia lessons.

These fundamental principles are:

  1. Dual channels: humans have separate channels for processing verbal and visual information. Visual information comes through the eyes which is the visual channel (photos, text, illustrations). The verbal channel, on the other hand, processes sounds (spoken text, narrations). The brain is set up to process words and pictures in different places in the brain and to represent them differently. These are two different ways people learn and using both channels help people understand better (videos, animations).
  2. Limited capacity: we can only pay attention to a few things at one time. So if you have lots of things happening in the screen, the learner can only pay attention to some of those multimedia elements. There is a limited capacity of the human information processing system, and that’s we need to guide our learners so they pay attention to what’s important.
  3. Active processing: just presenting information is not enough for meaningful learning. The learner has to actively engage in cognitive processing of the learning material.

What type of cognitive processes translate into meaningful learning?

  • Paying attention to the relevant material only. This process is called “Selecting”.
  • Mentally organizing the material into a coherent structure. This process is called “Organizing”.
  • Integrating the material with prior knowledge. This process is called “Integrating”.

Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning

The idea of multimedia learning is that the information comes from the outside world through our visual and verbal channels (eyes and ears) and gets registered in the sensory memory.

The next part of the process is paying attention or “selecting” from all the information that is coming through the eyes and ears, the information that is going to be used for processing in the working memory.

Once the selected information is transferred to working memory, the learner inherently makes sense of it by mentally organizing the information into a coherent representation. This process is called “organizing”.

The knowledge from long-term memory (prior knowledge) gets activated and brought into working memory for the learners to think about. The learner integrates this prior knowledge from long-term memory with the incoming information to help make sense out of it. This is the “integrating” process.

Multimedia Learning TheoryThese three processes of selecting, organizing and integrating are the key elements in meaningful learning, and the idea of multimedia learning is that for instruction to be effective we have to encourage people to engage in those processes.

Active Learning

Principles of Multimedia Learning

Dr. Mayer identified 12 principles that shape the design and organization of multimedia presentations:

  1. Coherence Principle – People learn better when extraneous words, pictures and sounds are excluded rather than included.
  2. Signaling Principle – People learn better when cues that highlight the organization of the essential material are added.
  3. Redundancy Principle – People learn better from graphics and narration than from graphics, narration and on-screen text.
  4. Spatial Contiguity Principle – People learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near rather than far from each other on the page or screen.
  5. Temporal Contiguity Principle – People learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively.
  6. Segmenting Principle – People learn better from a multimedia lesson is presented in user-paced segments rather than as a continuous unit.
  7. Pre-training Principle – People learn better from a multimedia lesson when they know the names and characteristics of the main concepts.
  8. Modality Principle – People learn better from graphics and narrations than from animation and on-screen text.
  9. Multimedia Principle – People learn better from words and pictures than from words alone.
  10. Personalization Principle – People learn better from multimedia lessons when words are in conversational style rather than formal style.
  11. Voice Principle – People learn better when the narration in multimedia lessons is spoken in a friendly human voice rather than a machine voice.
  12. Image Principle – People do not necessarily learn better from a multimedia lesson when the speaker’s image is added to the screen.

Characteristics of Multimedia Elements to Promote Deep Learning

In order to incorporate multimedia elements in an effective way to enhance learning, it is important to consider the principles of multimedia learning developed by Dr. Mayer (2007) and the characteristics multimedia messages should have to promote deep learning.

In the following table, there is a list of these characteristics with the associated principles of multimedia elements (Laureate Education, 2010a) to guide instructors and developers of learning experiences to have some guidance when incorporating multimedia elements in learning.

Characteristic Purpose Instructional Strategy Associated Multimedia Learning Principle
Systematicity To help learners build a mental model. Use graphics that show each component of a system, indicating the action of each component, and expressing the causal relations among the actions. Multimedia Principle.
Referencing To help learners build referential connections between words and pictures. Place printed words near corresponding portions of graphics or present spoken words at the same time as presenting the corresponding graphics. Spatial Contiguity Principle.

Temporary Contiguity Principle.

Conciseness To help learners stay focus. Avoid irrelevant material and provide cues that guide learner’s attention. Coherence Principle.

Signaling Principle.

Segmenting Principle.

Pre-Training Principle.

Sociability Activate a sense of social presence. Use a friendly, human voice that speaks in a conversational style. Personalize Principle.

Voice Principle.

Conserving Help the learner to avoid overloading the visual channel. Present words as spoken text (narration) so they do not compete with the graphic for the learner’s visual attention. Modality Principle.

Redundancy Principle.

Technology and Multimedia LearningTechnology in Education

The advances of technology bring more affordable tools and open resources to facilitate the development of learning with multimedia components.

Now, it is more common to see educators incorporating multimedia into their classrooms to engage students and facilitate learning.

This is just the beginning of a more technological classroom, where students will learn all the educational topics using laptops or mobile devices to interact with others, while using software and games to learn new content. Students will be each day more comfortable creating their own websites to present portfolios of their work. Homework will be more interactive and shared on social media tools, parents will be able to contribute more, participating in discussion forums with teachers, and learning will be a bigger part of the leisure time of students that will be learning while enjoying an educational game or discussing topics with their classmates on social media.

We just need to have the right mindset to know how to use the principles of multimedia learning, so we can ensure an active and meaningful learning experience for our learners.

In ConclusionMultimedia Learning

As an instructional designer, one of my main goals is to get learner’s attention and develop learning experiences that will guide them to the achievement of clear learning objectives, while engaging learners in a deep learning process where they can transfer that knowledge into different situations.

According to Dr. Mayer (2010c), this kind of learning translate into an active learning process, where there are three major elements:

  • Selection of relevant materials through the visual and verbal sensory channels,
  • Mentally integrating that information into an organized mental model, and
  • Relating to prior knowledge.

This active learning process can be achieved with multimedia elements, as long as there are some principles in place to make an effective impact on learners (Laureate Education, 2010b).

Nowadays, it is frequent to find a wide variety of multimedia elements in learning that don’t contribute to the learning process, and this is why those principles, in conjunction with the right technology and tools can be a powerful combination to create engaging and effective learning solutions with multimedia.

So let’s stop and think first how our learning solutions and designs are engaging learners in a meaningful learning experience. And let’s consider the principles of multimedia learning to use research and strategies from experts to help our learners achieve their goals.

Are you applying these principles of multimedia learning into your learning solutions?

Leave me your comments and questions below.

Thanks for reading and see you next time.

Thais 🙂


Laureate Education (Producer). (2010a). Triarchic model of cognitive load: Parts 1 and 2 [Video file]. Retrieved from

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010b). Triarchic model of cognitive load, part 3 [Video file]. Retrieved from

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010c). What is multimedia? [Video file]. Retrieved from

Mayer, R. E. (2007). Five features of effective multimedia messages: An evidence-based approach. In Fiore, S. M., & Salas, E. (Eds.). Toward a science of distributed learning (pp. 171–184). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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2 Responses

  1. Jennie Reck says:

    Great information in your article, as a teacher and doctoral student it is relevant to my world. Is there a source that already identified the multimedia resources that best support the learning process? There are so many sources that I was hoping someone has already done the work for K-6 students.

    • Thais says:

      I’m not sure for K6 but the work Dr. Mayer has done should be a good starting point. Although it would be nice to have some research about younger audiences because their brains are in different developmental stages as an adult. I’m sorry I don’t have more resources specifically for your work. I wish you all the best in your doctoral degree. That’s amazing!

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