How to use Mayer’s 12 Principles of Multimedia when creating your course content

No matter what type of course content you’re creating, the goal is the same; to develop educational content that is engaging and effective. After all, you don’t want to put hours into coursework only to have it fall flat, or for those learning from it not to grasp the most important concepts.

In order to create an effective multimedia learning experience, Richard Mayer developed a 12-principle theory to use as a guideline for anyone who is putting together digital learning experiences.

Whether you’re creating a PowerPoint presentation, videos, or eLearning courses, Mayer’s 12 Principles of Multimedia can help to make your content easy to understand and engaging to your audience.

So, what are these 12 principles and how can you apply them when you’re creating your course content?


1. The Coherence Principle

The Coherence Principle states that people tend to learn best with there isn’t distracting material included in a course. It’s easy to want to cram in as much information as possible, especially if you’re short on time or space.
But, cutting out the “fluff” will make learning basic concepts easier. Ask yourself if every image, word, and addition is absolutely necessary to get the point across. When you sweep through your course this way, you might find that you can cut a lot of things out. In doing so, you’ll provide a simplified, more clarifying course that your students will understand and enjoy.

2. The Signaling Principle

In this world of distractions, the Signaling Principle suggests that people tend to learn best when they know exactly what to focus on. That’s especially true when they’re looking at a screen. Use this principle not only to “declutter” your content but to highlight important areas of information. Make sure the audience knows what to look at first and what to pay attention to as you move forward.

3. The Redundancy Principle

The Redundancy Principle suggests that people tend to absorb more and learn better when they are given narration and graphics, instead of narration, graphics, and text.
Simply put, if you already have narration and graphics on the screen, adding text makes it redundant. As a result, it can also become confusing and overwhelming, which will defeat your original purpose.

4. The Spatial Contiguity Principle

You might not typically think about the space between the text and imagery on your content. But, it can play a bigger role than you realize. This particular principle focuses on the idea that people tend to learn better when visuals and text are close together.
When you’re designing your multimedia, try to avoid putting an image on one side and your text far away from it. Instead, put the two close together so they are easy to see and focus on at the same time. It makes it easier for people to process the information and limits the risk of them getting distracted.

5. The Temporal Contiguity Principle

This principle suggests that words and visuals need to be presented together, rather than in any type of consecutive order.
For example, if your content includes an animation, make sure any voiceover you’re using is laid on top of it, so the narration can be heard while the animation is going. Again, this makes processing the information easier, since your audience will be seeing and hearing it all at once.

6. The Segmenting Principle

It’s not easy to learn when information is presented in one long, drawn-out stream. That’s where the Segmenting Principle comes in. This principle suggests that people learn better when information is broken up into smaller chunks.
Not only does this give your audience more control, but it can make it easier for them to recall information later. When you offer “bite-sized” pieces of information, they can be read or heard as little facts, so they are easier to retain.
Keep your information as segmented and short as possible. Break it up as much as possible in a way that still allows it to be cohesive. You can still include the same amount of information, just make sure it’s not all dragging together in a long chain.

7. The Pre-Training Principle

How much easier is it to learn something quickly when you already have a foundation? That’s exactly what the Pre-Training Principle focuses on.
When people know the basics of something, they’re more likely to grasp more detailed information about it. So, how can you apply that to your content?
Set your audience up for success before you even officially begin the course. Present slides or videos with definitions, key terms, or basic concepts that will be covered throughout the course. You don’t need to go into great detail. But, it should be enough for anyone taking your course to feel as though they aren’t stepping in blind.

8. The Modality Principle

Having text on a screen is important and certainly has its place. But, the Modality Principle suggests that people tend to learn better and retain more information when audio and visuals are used together, rather than text and visuals.
Whenever possible, add audio/narration to the visuals on the screen, either in place of text or in addition to it. Rely on visuals as much as possible, rather than overloading the screen with text, which can be confusing and overwhelming.

9. The Multimedia Principle

The whole basis of multimedia is the inclusion of things like pictures, video, and other forms of media to make learning more effective. That is exactly what this principle is based on. It suggests that people learn best when visuals are involved along with words, rather than only having words on a screen.

Content that is overloaded with text can become distracting, overwhelming, and confusing. Including pictures, animations, videos, etc., can not only enhance the information of the text, but it can clarify it and make it easier to understand.

With that in mind, be sure to choose images and videos that are relevant to the text. All visuals should be used to make things clearer or to amplify what is already being said.

10. The Personalization Principle

While everyone learns differently, most people tend to retain information better when it’s told to them in a more conversational, personal tone. When information is given in a formal and professional tone, it’s easier to “tune out” or even feel a bit overwhelmed. Even if people understand the information, they can second guess themselves based on how it’s presented.
The Personalization Principle suggests that having a more casual tone to your content can improve the overall learning experience. Avoid using long sentences or overly-complex words. Keep your language as casual as possible, and make sure you remain consistent for audio and text with that tone.

11. The Voice Principle

Think about what would be easier to follow if you were listening to a presentation or class; a computer voice, or a human voice? The Voice Principle suggests that it’s much easier for people to learn when they’re listening to a human voice.
Again, this reflects on the Personalization Principle. A computer voice or “robot voice” doesn’t show much inflection or emotion. As a result, it can come across as very monotone. It’s easy for your audience to “tune out” or get bored. As a result, they may not retain the information as well.
You can either record your own narration or hire someone to do it for you. But, make sure to use a human voice in your multimedia whenever possible.

12. The Image Principle

This is a relatively new principle, but it suggests that people don’t necessarily learn more effectively when there is a talking head on the screen.
Talking head videos are extremely popular, and it’s easy to understand why. It can feel more like learning in-person or make the course more personable. But, this principle focuses on the idea that using relevant images on the screen, connected to the content, can be more effective than a talking head.
While there is more research to be done here, try to include imagery throughout your content that relates to text or narration. If your audience has a visual they can think back on, it may be easier for them to recall information.

Making the Most of Multimedia Learning

Multimedia learning is something that gets used every single day. Now, more than ever, people are working and going to school from home, so it’s essential to get multimedia learning right. Because multimedia continues to change and advance with technology, it has grown and reinvented itself many times over the years. So, best practices have continued to change in order to make sure people are effectively learning from digital instruction.
Mayer’s 12 Principles of Multimedia is a great guideline for designing your course content. Keep these principles in mind whether you’re creating a new course from scratch or if your current content needs some tweaking. You might be surprised at how effective they are in enhancing your course and making it easier for your audience to learn, retain, and recall information.

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