Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning

OVERVIEW

Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning

  • Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning seeks to explain the processes that take place in the minds of learners during meaningful learning from multimedia instruction
  • Meyer and Moreno (2003) define multimedia as the use of words and pictures (verbal and visual)
  • the theory has clear implications for instructional design to facilitate multimedia learning, in particular for how to avoid cognitive overload

This page is a summary of the information detailed in Meyer and Moreno (2003) and Meyer (2010).

ASSUMPTIONS UNDERLYING THE THEORY

The Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning proposes three main assumptions:

  1. Dual channels — there are two separate channels (auditory and visual) for processing information from sensory memory (e.g. Dual-Coding theory)
  2. Limited capacity — each channel has a limited (finite) working memory capacity (e.g. Cognitive Load Theory and working memory theory)
  3. Active processing — Multimedia learning is an active process of selecting words, selecting images, organising words, organising images and integrating them together and with prior knowledge from long-term memory (e.g. Generative learning theory, Active learning theory)

Cognitive processing events are shown by the arrows in the diagram below:

Cognitive Theory of Multimedia learning
R.E. Mayer’s Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning

5 types of cognitive processes that occur in multimedia learning:

  1. selecting words
  2. selecting images
  3. organising words
  4. organising images, and
  5. integrating verbal and pictorial models

COGNITIVE OVERLOAD

Cognitive overload occurs when the processing demands of the learning task are greater than the processing capacity of the human information-processing system.

There are 3 types of cognitive demand:

  1. Essential processing —cognitive processes that allow a mental representation to be held in working memory for a period of time (also termed representational holding)
  2. Extraneous processing — cognitive processes that are not required for making sense of the presented material, but occur due to the design of the learning task
  3. Generative processing — cognitive processes that are required for making sense of the presented material (selecting, organising and integrating words and images)

There are 5 types of cognitive overload

  1. One channel is overloaded with essential processing demands
  2. Both channels are overloaded with essential processing demands
  3. One or both channels are overloaded with incidental processing demands attributable to extraneous material
  4. One or both channels are overloaded with incidental processing demands attributable to confusing presentation
  5. One or both channels are overloaded with essential processing and representational holding demands

STRATEGIES FOR COGNITIVE OFF-LOADING

As described by Mayer and Moreno (2003):

Type 1 Cognitive Overload

  • Problem
    • One channel is overloaded with essential processing demands
  • Load-reducing method
    • Move some essential processing from one sensory channel to the other (e.g. from visual to auditory)
  • Research Effect
    • Modality effect: better transfer when words are presented as narration rather than on-screen text (effect size: 1.17)

Type 2 Cognitive Overload

  • Problem
    • Both channels are overloaded with essential processing demands
  • Load-reducing method
    • allow time between successibe bit-sized sepgments (segmenting)
    • teach names and characteristics of components in a prior session (pretraining)
  • Research Effect
    • segmentation effect: better transfer when lesons are presented in learner-controlled segments rather than as a continuous unit (effect size 1.36)
    • pretraining effect: better transfer when students know names and behaviours of systems components (effect size 1.0)

Type 3 Cognitive Overload

  • Problem
    • One or both channels are overloaded with incidental processing demands attributable to extraneous material
  • Load-reducing method
    • eliminate (interesting but) extraneous material (weeding)
    • provide cues for how to process the material (signalling)
  • Research Effect
    • coherence effect: better transfer when extraneous material is excluded (effect size 0.9)
    • signalling effect: better transfer when signals are included (effect size 0.74)

Type 4 Cognitive Overload

  • Problem
    • One or both channels are overloaded with incidental processing demands attributable to confusing presentation
  • Load-reducing method
    • reduce need for visual scanning by putting printed words near corresponding parts of graphics (aligning)
    • avoid identical streams of printed and spoken words (eliminate redundancy)
  • Research Effect
    • spatial contiguity effect: better transfer when printed words are near corresponding parts of graphics (effect size 0.48)
    • redundancy effect: better transfer when words are presented as narration rather than narration and on-screen text (effect size 0.69)

Type 5 Cognitive Overload

  • Problem
    • One or both channels are overloaded with essential processing and representational holding demands
  • Load-reducing method
    • present narration and corresponding animation simultaneously to minimise the need to hold representations in memory (synchronizing)
    • ensure learners possess skill at holding mental representations (individualising)
  • Research Effect
    • temporal contiguity effect: better transfer when narration and animation are presented simultaneously rather than successively (effect size 1.30)
    • spatial ability effect: high spatial learners benefit more from well-designed instruction (effect size 1.13)

MAYER’s PRINCIPLES OF MULTIMEDIA INSTRUCTION

The research effects described by Mayer and colleagues have subsequently been described as 12 principles for instruction, which serve to decrease cognitive demand on the learner (Mayer, 2010a; MAyer, 2010b):

Five Principles for Reducing Extraneous Processing

  • Coherence Principle: People learn better when extraneous material is excluded from a multimedia lesson.
  • Signalling Principle: People learn better when essential words are highlighted.
  • Redundancy Principle: People learn better from animation with narration than from animation with narration and text except when the onscreen text is short, highlights the key action described in the narration, and is placed next to the portion of the graphic that it describes.
  • 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.
  • Temporal Contiguity Principle: People learn better when corresponding narration and animation are presented simultaneously rather than successively (i.e. the words are spoken at the same time they are illustrated in the animation).

Three Principles for Managing Essential Processing

  • Segmenting Principle: People learn better when a narrated animation is presented in learner-paced segments rather than as a continuous presentation.
  • Pretraining Principle: People learn better from a narrated animation when they already know the names and characteristics of essential components.
  • Modality Principle: People learn better from graphics with spoken text rather than graphics with printed text.

Four Principles for Fostering Generative Processing

  • Multimedia Principle: People learn better from words and pictures than from words alone. This allows people to build connections between their verbal and pictorial models.
  • Personalization Principle: People learn better from a multimedia lesson when words are in conversational style rather than formal style. If people feel as though they are engaged in a conversation, they will make more effort to understand what the other person is saying
  • Embodiment principle: onscreen agents should use human-like gestures, body language, and movements
  • Image principle: having the image of the narrator on screen has little effect on meaningful learning, and a static image of the narrator can be distracting.

CRITICISMS OF THE THEORY

  • does not take into account learner stress and motivation, which can contribute to cognitive load
  • does not explicitly address non-narrative audio (e.g. background music)
  • unclear how generalisable the theory is – needs more studies done settings other than physical sciences. However, increasing evidence of applicability to medical education.
  • lack of mechanistic understanding of the integrative processing present in the model

References and links

Journal articles and books

  • Mayer RE. Multimedia Learning. Cambridge University Press, 2001 [google books]
  • Mayer RE, Moreno R. Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning. Educational Psychologist. 38(1):43-52. 2003. [article]
  • Mayer, RE. Applying the science of learning to medical education. Medical Education, 44, 543-549. 2010. [article]
  • Mayer, R. E. (2010b). Research-based principles for designing multimedia instruction. In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.). Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum (pp. 59-70). Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/asle2014/index.php

FOAM and web resources

MIME 700 2

SMILE

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Chris is an Intensivist and ECMO specialist at the Alfred ICU in Melbourne. He is also the Innovation Lead for the Australian Centre for Health Innovation at Alfred Health and Clinical Adjunct Associate Professor at Monash University. He is a co-founder of the Australia and New Zealand Clinician Educator Network (ANZCEN) and is the Lead for the ANZCEN Clinician Educator Incubator programme. He is on the Board of Directors for the Intensive Care Foundation and is a First Part Examiner for the College of Intensive Care Medicine. He is an internationally recognised Clinician Educator with a passion for helping clinicians learn and for improving the clinical performance of individuals and collectives.

After finishing his medical degree at the University of Auckland, he continued post-graduate training in New Zealand as well as Australia’s Northern Territory, Perth and Melbourne. He has completed fellowship training in both intensive care medicine and emergency medicine, as well as post-graduate training in biochemistry, clinical toxicology, clinical epidemiology, and health professional education.

He is actively involved in in using translational simulation to improve patient care and the design of processes and systems at Alfred Health. He coordinates the Alfred ICU’s education and simulation programmes and runs the unit’s education website, INTENSIVE.  He created the ‘Critically Ill Airway’ course and teaches on numerous courses around the world. He is one of the founders of the FOAM movement (Free Open-Access Medical education) and is co-creator of litfl.com, the RAGE podcast, the Resuscitology course, and the SMACC conference.

His one great achievement is being the father of two amazing children.

On Twitter, he is @precordialthump.

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