Multimedia Researcher Mayer on Slideware

Richard Mayer is one of the leading researchers on the impact of multimedia on learning. However, in his two books, Multimedia Learning and e-Learning (coauthored by Ruth Colvin Clark), slideware is not often mentioned. Multimedia Learning he simply mentions PowerPoint presentations as an example of multimedia. Since I have ben exploring his research as a means of improving my instruction delivered with slideware, I am interested to see what he says about it. In order to find this out, I had to go beyond his books and explore his papers and interviews.

In 2004, Mayer was interviewed by Cliff Atkinson, PowerPoint consultant and author of Beyond Bullet Points. Atkinson asks Mayer directly if his research applies to PowerPoint (and I assume other slideware). Mayer replies,”Research on multimedia learning is highly relevant to the design of PowerPoint presentations.” He continues by listing several key concepts from his book Multimedia Learning that are particularly relevant to slideware:

  • Multimedia Principle: “People learn better from words and pictures than from words alone.”
  • Modality Principle: “People learn more deeply from pictures and spoken words than from pictures and printed words.”

These two principles tell us that slideware using spoken words and images can be an effective instructional approach. At very least, it is superior to straight lecture. Multimedia theory proposes that using auditory and visual channels is superior to just one or the other.

Mayer also deemed the following as particularly relevant:

  • Coherence Principle: “People learn better when extraneous material is excluded rather than included.” In other words, any material that does not support the desired learning outcome should be avoided.  Processing extraneous diverts capacity to process to irrelevant material.
    In the slide above from a Powerpoint template, the tangram shapes and the rabbit contribute nothing to the message and according to the coherence principle should be eliminated.
  • Signaling Principle: “People learn better when cues that highlight the organization of essential material are added.” Highlight that which is most import. If extraneous information cannot be eliminated use signaling cues to denote that which is most important.

    Dimming the background and circling the tangram elements is an example of signaling. It focuses attention on the desired material (which in this case is not desired). Another example of signaling would be physically pointing to the tangram elements.

  • Contiguity Principle: (Spacial Contiguity) “Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near rather than far from each other on the page or screen.” (Temporal Contiguity) “Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively.”
    The diagram of the triangle on the top reflects spatial contiguity. which according to the contiguity principle better supports learning than the triangle below it.

  • Personalization Principle: ”People learn better from multimedia presentations when words are in conversational style rather than formal style.” Use informal conversational style of speaking or writing when presenting.

Mayer regards slideware as he does any other medium. When asked about criticism of Powerpoint , he replies:

I am not sure what is meant by the assertion that “PowerPoint is rarely a good method.” If this statement means that PowerPoint is often misused, I wholeheartedly agree. However, I do not think it makes sense to refer to PowerPoint as a method. Instead, based on the distinction I made in a previous answer, PowerPoint is a medium that can be used effectively — that is, with effective design methods — or ineffectively, that is with ineffective design methods. We would not necessarily say that books are rarely a good method, because books can be designed using effective or ineffective methods. In my opinion, the same principle applies to PowerPoint. (Cognitive Load of Powerpoint, 2004)

Here are a number of online resources that Mayer has authored or coauthored in this area:

I will continue to investigate the work of Mayer and others with several more posts exploring many of the principles outlined above, as well as others. I also plan to examine research that challenges some of his ideas as they apply the the classroom and instructional presentations. I find that reflecting upon this research helps fine tune presentations well beyond what I gain from business oriented books on making better presentations.

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1 comment

  1. Nathan’s avatar

    Nice summary; thanks for posting.

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