9. Multimedia Principle

Chart showing that pages with images draw 94% more views.

The Multimedia Principle means that “words and pictures” are better than words alone.  There has been a lot of research in this area, and it has been found that learners do, in fact, gain more knowledge with words and pictures than if they were just presented with words alone.

With computing power that has gotten better over the years, pictures could mean:

  • Illustrations
  • Graphs
  • Charts
  • Photographs
  • Diagrams
  • Animations
  • Simulations
  • Videos
  • Other Visual Representations (for example Three Dimensional Models)

As we saw last week, we also know that spoken narration, in conjunction with the picture or graphic, is better than text narration.  We also know that multimedia presentations can foster generative processing (the process of constructing meaning through generating relationships and associations between stimuli and existing knowledge, beliefs, and experiences), because the learner is able to hold corresponding verbal and pictorial representations in working memory at the same time.  Remember that working memory can only hold so much information, so this is an important consideration when looking at efficient ways to teach material.

The Multimedia Principle (3:23)

An important distinction to make is that there really no difference between using computers or just text books when learning with words and pictures.  You will need to look at how the medium fits the lesson, and what works best with study conditions. 

You also need to remember that the quality of the lesson is important.  As they say – garbage in, garbage out.  The instructional message itself is more important than the medium it is presented in, and if you have a confusing message, presenting it in words and pictures is not going to make it better! 

When you use words and pictures, take full advantage of the pictures.  The quality of the lesson can be influenced by quality, and purpose, of the picture.  Here are a few ways that the picture could be categorized:

  • Decorative – Illustrations that are intended to interest or entertain the reader, but do not enhance the message of the passage. (Picture of a group of children on a playground for a lesson on physics principles)
  • Representational – Illustrations that portray a single element. (Picture of the Space Shuttle with a heading “The Space Shuttle”)
  • Organizational – Illustrations that depict relationships along elements. (A map or chart showing the main parts of the heart)
  • Explanative – Illustrations that explain how a system works. (Frames showing how a lightning storm forms)

When you look at these four different categories of pictures you will see that decorative and representational pictures do little to help the learner gain knowledge, other than to entertain. 

Illustration showing how automobile brakes work.
Explanative Illustration

One additional thought is that knowledge construction will always be better than information delivery.  When using knowledge construction you can then use the multimedia principles to effectively get that knowledge to the learners.

I hope you are enjoying the FLC.  Next week we will look at the Personalization Principle!

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

The Multimedia Principle. (2017, October 25). Retrieved November 11, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbvpPdxoJiI.