Have you ever heard of the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning? If you are a designer, developer or just interested in learning theory, this is good stuff. We can thank Richard Mayer from UC Santa Barbara, for pioneering this research.
Underlying Learning Theories
According to Dr. Mayer, the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (CTML) is based on three assumptions:
- Dual Coding Theory. The first assumption is the unproven but somewhat accepted theory that we process visual and verbal information differently and in two separate channels. Known as Paivio’s Dual Coding Theory, it states that we process and internally represent visual information in a different way than verbal information.
- Limited Capacity. The second assumption is that due to the capacity of working memory, we can only process a limited amount of information in each channel at one time.
- Active Processing. The final assumption is that in order to make something meaningful, people actively process information by paying attention and organizing and integrating the information.
The Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning
Now that you have the background, the actual theory states that a person must engage in five cognitive processes in order to learn in a multimedia environment. The learner coordinates and monitors these five processes in working memory: 1) selects relevant words from a multimedia message, 2) selects relevant visuals from a multimedia message, 3) builds connections among certain words to create a coherent verbal model, 4) builds connections among certain images to create a coherent pictorial model, and 5) integrates the verbal and pictorial models with each other and with prior knowledge.
Wow. It’s amazing that we can learn anything at all from a process this demanding! But of course, the brain can manage these processes when multimedia messages are designed for the human mind.
Let’s Get Practical
Every good learning theory needs practical application. So, what are the implications of this theory and how does CTML help us design better eLearning courses? In many ways, it brings us back to the basics of good design.
- If the learner is processing a limited portion of a multimedia message due to the limited capacity of working memory, then be sure you have the learner’s full attention.
- If the learner is selecting a limited portion of the audio and visual message, be sure to emphasize and concentrate on what is most important.
- If the learner is organizing and structuring knowledge to build a coherent model, then present the multimedia message in a transferable structure (for example, comparing the characteristics of two concepts is a comparison structure that can help build accurate mental models).
- If the learner must integrate a verbal model and a pictorial model, then ensure the multimedia elements are well-synchronized to promote integration.
How can this theory influence your design? Comment below.