8. Modality Principle

Last week we talked about the Pre-Training principle, and this week we look into another principle that will help us with essential processing.  The Modality Principle means that “graphics and narration” are better than “graphics and text.”

Here is a video that explains the Modality principle.

The Modality Principle (5:04)

If you only get one thing out of today’s FLC, it’s that when you have graphics, whether it’s a picture or a video, you want to use spoken word narration whenever possible.  This is the shortcut into working memory, as the graphics are processed through the visual channel and the narration is processed in the auditory channel (at the same time and without interfering with each other). 

When using graphics and spoken word narration, the learner will not have to integrate information as they would if they received two sources of information visually. It is so important not to split the learners attention, and this will help the student learn better and more efficiently.

Thanks for reading the Faculty Learning Corner (FLC) and I’ll see you next week with the Multimedia Principle.

7. Pre-Training Principle

The Pre-Training Principle means that we need to pre-teach key concepts for better understanding.  What this means is that learners actually learn better and more deeply if they already know the names and characteristics of the subject.

Picture depicting three phases of learning, questioning, thinking, and light bulb turning on.

So, why is this important?  We again look at working memory, and the capacity of the brain to retain knowledge.  What we find is that when a complex subject is approached at a fast pace (such as in a college course) the brain cannot take everything in.  This is called “essential overload.”

Pre-Training then gives essential knowledge, and is given before the lesson starts, which makes it easier to process the new concepts of the lesson.

Microscope with parts labeled

Here is an example.  Students in biology will need to use a microscope in their first lesson to look at blood cells, while at the same time trying to figure out the parts of the microscope.  Students with prior knowledge of the parts of the microscope and how they work can use their cognitive resources to learning the blood cell lesson.  Students who do not have this prior knowledge will be taxed by learning the lesson and learning the microscope parts and how they work. These students need pre-training.

Pre-training, in this case, helps by providing essential knowledge prior to diving into the concepts of the lesson.  Knowing your learner is very important then to know when to apply pre-training. 

The results are very clear that those with pre-training will perform better than those learners who do not get pre-training.  Students “learn more deeply from a multimedia message when they know the names and characteristics of the main concepts.”

Next week we look at the Modality Principle.  Have a great weekend!!

Mayer, R. (2014). The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning, Second Edition. New York City: Cambridge University Press.

6. Segmenting Principle

Over the last few weeks we have looked at techniques for reducing extraneous processing by our learners.  This week we start to look at essential processing, and how we make that better.  The first principle to do this is the Segmenting Principle.

The Segmenting Principle means that user-paced segments are better than continuous presentation.

You have probably heard of this technique, as it is also known as “chunking.”  When working memory is full, any additional information, no matter how important, will disappear like it never happened.  So, organizing information becomes very important. 

In this video, we will hear expert Richard Mayer discuss the Segmenting Principle, how it works, and information on why it works.


The Segmenting Principle (2:44)

We want to organize our courses in a logical and progressive way by putting together related material.  We segment by Module, and we divide modules into smaller topics.  One tip is to make sure that from screen to screen you are not introducing multiple topics.  Also, remember the coherence principle, and make sure you include “need to know” material only.  We need to get rid of all extraneous material and keep only meaningful “chunks” of essential information.

I’m going to leave you with a fun video on “chunking!”

Chunking (3:32)

Next week we are going to find another way to make essential processing better, and that is by Pre-Training! 

Thanks for reading the FLC.  See you next week!

“Chunking: Learning Technique for Better Memory and Understanding.” YouTube, Sprouts, 21 Jan. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=hydCdGLAh00.

Mayer, R. Ten Research-Based Principles for Designing Multimedia Instruction. Presented at E-Learn: World Conference on E-Learning. Retrieved October 15, 2019 from https://www.learntechlib.org/primary/p/180549/.

Mayer, R. (2014). The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning, Second Edition. New York City: Cambridge University Press.

5 Temporal Contiguity Principle

Last week we looked at the Spatial Contiguity Principle and we found that related words and pictures need to be  close together.  This week we look at the Temporal Contiguity Principle.

The Temporal Contiguity Principle tells us that students learn better when related words and pictures happen simultaneously.  So where last week we looked at getting words and pictures together physically, this week we look at getting words and pictures together in time.

Temporal Contiguity Principle – (1:17)

Again, we want the text to be shown at the same time as we see the graphic or animation.  Just like in the spatial contiguity principle, it might seem like giving the student more exposure to a topic (for example, giving them an audio lesson first, and then a visual lesson later), would seem like a good approach, but in reality this is not how people learn. 

We want words and pictures to enter working memory at the same time.  This allows easier integration of the information into working memory than presenting them separately, and takes advantage of how the mind works.

Let’s finish this section with Richard Mayer himself telling us about Temporal Contiguity:

Richard Mayer on Temporal Contiguity (0:50)

Next week we will look at Segmenting!!  Have a great weekend, and thanks for subscribing to the FLC!

Brannen, Katy. “Spatial and Temporal Contiguity Principle Dr Richard Mayer.” Spatial and Temporal Contiguity Principle Dr Richard Mayer, 27 Mar. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=34QW0lNL86s.

Maimone, David. “Temporal Contiguity.” YouTube, 19 May 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GeReuAr_Mk.

Mayer, R. (2014). The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning, Second Edition. New York City: Cambridge University Press.

4. Spatial Contiguity Principle

Last week we learned that Pictures and Narration is better than Pictures and Narration and Text.  But what if you have to have Pictures and written text (no narration).  This week we look into this using the Spatial Contiguity Principle.

The Spatial Contiguity Principle means that you want related words and pictures close together.  Let’s take a look at an example in the video below.

Spacial Contiguity Principle (50 seconds)

We want to avoid having the learner split their attention and then have to mentally integrate what is presented, so instead we need to physically integrate information. When using both text and graphics, this is done by making sure printed words are found as close as possible to their corresponding graphic.

Here are some examples of the Spatial Contiguity Principle:

  • Avoid placing captions at the bottom part of screens – Many e-learning modules place explanatory text in a caption below the graphic in an effort to make the screen look much neater. This, however, requires more effort from the learner in scanning the graphic then down to see the explanatory text, then back up to the graphic to reconcile the text with the visual. This takes up more time and causes a break or gap between mental processing. A better way to present this is to move the text nearer the graphic, ideally beside it, and draw pointing lines to connect the text with the parts.
Picture showing a brain with labels
Keep text close to graphics
  • Do not separate text and graphics on scrolling screens – Scrolling screens are a common way of presenting topics during e-learning. The problem with this type of method is that only parts of the screen are shown at a time. This becomes a barrier to effective mental processing when on-screen graphics are separated from explanatory text, with the learner being unable to visualize the graphics and text at the same time. A good way to address this problem is to integrate text with graphics so that they can be viewed as one in a single part of the scrolling screen. Mouse-over or pop-up text boxes can also be used if the text is too lengthy to be integrated into a graphic. Fixed screens, instead of scrolling screens, may also be preferable to present the graphic together with its explanatory text embedded into the visual.
  • Do not separate feedback from questions during tests – When feedback for answered questions are placed on a separate screen, again there is a break in the mental process, which adds to cognitive load. In e-learning tests, a good way to reinforce a concept is to immediately show the correct answer and the explanation on the same screen with the question. This allows the learner to efficiently process the correct information.
Exercise picture with instructions away from pictures as a bad example.
  • Directions should not be separate from the exercise – Instructions for answering exercises or tests should be found in close proximity with the test to be answered. This allows the learner to easily go back to the instructions once he has seen the exercise and may need confirmation or clarification on how to go about the test.
  • Do not use linked windows that are separate from the primary lesson screen – In some modules, topics in the main lesson screen contain links to examples or supporting information that open up in a separate window. This window, when opened, covers the lessons screen completely, causing the learner to have to alternate between the two windows. To address this issue, smaller windows that can be moved around the screen or mouse-over boxes can be used instead.

In applying the Spatial Contiguity Principle we want to design pictures and text in a way that puts little strain on cognitive load.  When we do this it frees up working memory for comprehension and learning.

Thanks for reading the Faculty Learning Corner. Next week is the Temporal Contiguity Principle!!

Mayer, R. (2014). The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning, Second Edition. New York City: Cambridge University Press.

“The Principle of Spatial Contiguity: European Heart Association.” The Principle of Spatial Contiguity | European Heart Association, 25 Oct. 2017, www.heartassociation.eu/the-principle-of-spatial-contiguity/.

3 Redundancy Principle

The Redundancy Principle is one in which you want to avoid overloading the learner’s working memory.  Remember that your student can only process so much information.  Any additional information beyond the learner’s capacity will be lost.

Graphics + Narration is better than Graphics + Narration + Text

In the redundancy principle we are looking at situations where additional information is not needed for the student to learn.  These situations have a couple ways of showing themselves – The first way is when identical information is presented in two different forms at the same time.  The second way is when trying to enhance learning, the student is presented with additional information.

So why does this happen?  The learner will spend working memory resources to compare and coordinate the material, leaving less memory capacity for actually learning the material.

Here is a situation we have all seen before, but let’s watch a short segment of a presentation by comedian Don McMillan.

“Life After Death by PowerPoint” (0:38)

Why is this so boring and irritating? When we see text, we process it visually, but our brain translates the words to sounds, and does not process them as pictures.  So, it is important to note that when we read the information in a PowerPoint at the same time that it is spoken, we will attempt to relate and coordinate the information. This uses many of our working memory resources for learning, and this duplication is, in fact, extraneous to the learning process.  Because of this, it is better for the student if we eliminate one of these elements. 

But isn’t duplication of essential elements beneficial? Even though it may seem like giving information in multiple modes would be beneficial to the learner (more is better, right?), it actually can be harmful to the learning process.  Information needs to be processed by working memory, and we don’t want to create a situation where the student needs to coordinate information to process it. 

Redundancy Principle says People learn more deeply from graphics and narration than from graphics, narration, and on-screen text.
You don’t want to add written text to spoken text!!

We know that we learn better and more deeply from words and pictures than from words alone (Mayer, 2014). The Redundancy Principle adds to this, and tells us that [Graphics + Narration] is better than [Graphics + Narration + Text].

Exceptions – Of course there are exceptions to every rule….
It’s OK to use text with narration if:
* There are legal disclaimers or legal information that must be read by the learner
* You are emphasizing key points or phrases (keep text to a minimum!)

If you remember one thing from today’s Faculty Learning Corner, it needs to be that you don’t want to add written text to spoken text!!!!

Thanks for reading the FLC.  Next week is Spatial Contiguity!!

“Life After Death by PowerPoint” YouTube, Online, 14 September 2008, www.youtube.com/watch?v=lpvgfmEU2Ck

Mayer, R. (2014). The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning, Second Edition. New York City: Cambridge University Press.

2. Signaling Principle

Last week we looked at the Coherence Principle of Multimedia Learning.  In that principle we explored the effects of extraneous information.  This week we dive into the Signaling Principle, in which we try to focus attention on items that need to be learned

Using the Signaling Principle means using cues to help guide your student’s attention to where the relevant elements of the material is, or, to highlight the organization of essential material. 

Signaling can be in the form of text based cues, picture based cues, vocal cues, or might include cueing elements in written text and pictures that go together.

Check out this video from Wisc-Online:

“The Signaling Principle.” (length 3:48)

Even when only looking at text, there is a great opportunity for signaling.  Look at the example below that comes straight from the UAS website. The example on the left has only one signal (the blue text for links), while the example on the right has signaling to help you navigate the page.

Both the left and right examples above have the exact same text – but the example on the right includes signaling to help the learner.

The example on the left does have links in blue (which actually is a signal that these are links!!), but look at the difference when you use blocking techniques, different fonts and sizes, and different colors to emphasis the information you want to convey.

Using the signaling principle can help to promote learning by drawing attention to essential information.  Any time there is a chance that the student may be distracted by extraneous material would be a great time for signaling!!

Next week we look at the Redundancy Principle.  Thanks for reading the FLC!!

Mayer, R. (2014). The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning, Second Edition. New York City: Cambridge University Press.

“The Signaling Principle.” YouTube, Wisc-Online, 23 Oct. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENGjwO-kKpc.

1 Coherence Principle

Last week I let you know that we would be looking at the 12 Multimedia Principles, and we’ll get started this week with the Coherence Principle.  The Coherence Principle means eliminating extraneous words, pictures, and sounds.  When this is done there is a deeper understanding of material presented.  

To start looking at this principle it is important to note that:

  • a student does not have an unlimited capacity to learn, 
  • that students do not only have one channel for processing information, and
  • that students are not “passive learners” where you can continually feed them information which is recorded in their brain.

Just a bit more before we get to the Coherence Principle…. let me tell you a bit about how the brain takes in information.

Picture showing that processing information goes from the Multimedia presentation, enters the brain through sensory memory of ears and eyes, into working memory, and finally to long-term memory.
Multimedia goes through “memory stores” – Sensory Memory, Working Memory, and Long-Term Memory.

In reality all learners have “memory stores.”  When a multimedia presentation is shared, learners have two channels, which exist for gaining information via the sensory memory. The words and pictures that go through here are only seen and heard for just a brief moment and are not stored.  

From here the words and pictures go into working memory, which is where these items are consciously held and knowledge is processed.  Working Memory isn’t unlimited, and generally 4 to 7 “buckets” of information can be processed at one time, and for just a short time (which is why, when my wife gives me a grocery list of more than 3 items, she has to write it down!)

The brain’s storeroom of information is long term memory.  Here is where lots of information is held for long periods of time, and where new knowledge mixes with prior knowledge.  The big challenge in teaching is to get information from working memory into long term memory!!

Coherence Principle

Now, let’s talk about the Coherence Principle.  In this principle, “people learn better when extraneous material (interesting but irrelevant words or pictures, or sounds or music, or unneeded words and symbols) are taken out of a multimedia presentation.” (Mayer, 2014) 

In this principle, we want to only include essential material.  So if the subject is the life span of pacific salmon, but includes information on humpback whale predation, with awesome pictures of whales breaching, it would be interesting and might really spice up the lesson, but it also would take away from the actual subject and the learning outcome of that lesson.  This extraneous information takes up room in those 4-7 buckets of working memory, leaving less capacity for the essential information that is needed to be processed.

OK, what if we add music and sounds to the lesson?  This would also be a bad idea. Although it might make the multimedia lesson more interesting, having spoken text and then including other sounds, could actually overload the auditory channel. Those extraneous sounds compete with the text for the limited “working memory” processing capacity.

Graphics and cations, and also text on how a lightning storm forms.
What do you think? When you look at this example, the pictures have captions, and also include text that elaborates on each step. Do you think this would bring about the best learning results? (Mayer, 2009)

One last example is the one above – Wouldn’t a student learn more if you have graphics with captions, and text that explains the process??  Actually, the answer is no! In fact the end result might be worse than just having the Graphics and Captions as shown below.

This is because:

  1. learners process the key words in the captions,
  2. the graphics are presented in order, and
  3. the captions are near the pictures.

The clarity and concise graphics and captions, as seen below, will bring as good, and possibly better learning results, than the example above does!

Graphics and Captions showing how a lightning storm forms
“A concise presentation allows the learner to build a coherent mental representation.” (Mayer, 2009)

Why would students perform better with just graphics and captions?  It’s because the graphics and captions contain the essential information the student needs.  The large amounts of text actually contain extraneous information that the student does not necessarily need to know.  It’s always better to take out the unneeded words. Remember to give the students only the “need to know” information and take out all the “nice to know” information.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s FLC.  Next week we dive into the Signaling Principle!!  Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading!

Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia learning (2nd ed.). New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press.

Mayer, R. (Ed.). (2014). The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning (Cambridge Handbooks in Psychology). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Multimedia Learning

When we look at learning, in both the face-to-face classroom, and especially in on-line learning, an important aspect is Multimedia Learning (how we learn using words and pictures).

The definition of multimedia used here is that:

  • “Words” include spoken text or printed text. 
  • “Pictures” would be illustrations, photos, animation, or video. 
Researchers believe that there is an auditory and a visual channel in working memory (Baddeley, 1992).  The auditory channel handles information that is heard, while the visual channel processes information that is seen. Text seems to have unique processing requirements, with words initially captured by the visual channel and then converted to sounds in the auditory channel (Mayer, 2014).  “…when information is presented using both the visual and auditory channels, working memory can handle more information overall.” (Mayer, 2014).

Multimedia learning then is an environment where an instructor promotes learning, using words and pictures, in a way that promotes learning by building mental representations to construct knowledge. 

As we are looking for ways to make our courses better, it is important to know that we learn better and more deeply from words and pictures than from words alone. (Mayer, 2014) 

It is also important to know the “three assumptions” of cognitive theory of multimedia learning (Mayer 2014):

Dual ChannelsHumans possess separate channels
for processing visual and auditory
Paivio (1986),
Baddeley (1992)
Limited CapacityHumans are limited in the amount of
information that can be processed in
each channel at one time.
Baddeley (1992),
Chandler and
Sweller (1991)
Active ProcessingHumans engage in active learning by
attending to relevant incoming
information, organizing selected
information into coherent mental
representations, and integrating
mental representations with other
Mayer (1999),
Wittrock (1989)

In using multimedia we want to make sure that our pictures are relevant to the words, and only present essential material.  Making sure you are presenting what needs to be known, and not diluting it with “nice to know” material helps eliminate Extraneous Processing (cognitive processing which is not related to the instructional goal).

Over the next 12 weeks I want to help you to understand best practices in Multimedia Learning by looking at American educational psychologist Richard Mayer’s Multimedia Principles.  Please tune in as we build our knowledge on what good multimedia learning is. 

Thanks for subscribing to the Faculty Learning Corner!

Baddeley, A. (1992) working memory. Science, 255,pp.556-559.

Chandler, P,and Sweller, J. (1991). Cognitive load theory and the format of instruction. Cognition and Instruction, 8, pp.293-332.

Mayer, R. (2014). The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning, Second Edition. New York City: Cambridge University Press.

Mayer, R. E. (1999). Designing instruction for constructivist learning. In C. M. Reigeluth, Instructional design theories and models

Paivio, A. (1991). Dual coding theory: Retrospect and current status. Canadian Journal of Psychology/Revue canadienne de psychologie, 45(3), 255-287.

Wittrock, M. C. (1989). Generative processes of comprehension. Educational Psychologist, 24(4), 345-376.

Instructor Presence in Online Learning

In a face to face situation, instructor presence is easy …. you’re right there with your students, but when teaching online this can be tougher, unless you are thinking about it and making sure you are present to students.  One of the major reasons why students drop out of online courses is that they feel there is poor communication with the instructor.  Students need a sense of community.

The following video (7 min 39 sec), from The College of St. Scholastica in Minnesota, can help with ideas for online presence.

You need to remember that online learning can feel isolating to a student. You can make your student feel that their success is important just by giving frequent and direct communication. Help learners with any questions, and be proactive in contacting learners who appear to be falling behind. By showing personal interest you can help motivate your students to understand (and complete) course content.

Here is a link to a really good article from MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching Research “Guidelines for Online Course Moderation and Community Building from a Student’s Perspective” (2014).

Some ways to be present are:

  • through Blackboard discussions, especially if you give students a video introduction,
  • by creating instructor presence through regular Blackboard announcements, perhaps even creating a webcam recording so students can see you and hear your voice,
  • by giving audio/video feedback to assignments, which allows you to give feedback in a conversational way,
  • Using technology, such as VoiceThread, to not only increase instructor presence, but also student-to-student presence.

These are just a few ideas. remember to contact CELT or your campus instructional designer if you need help or have questions. Thank you for reading, and subscribing, to the Faculty Learning Corner. I’ll see you next week.