Instructional Design Principles



Watch overview videoInstructional Design Multimedia Principle Online Learning Quick Overview (3:21)


The multimedia principle simply states that text and relevant images are superior to just text or graphics in isolation. There is a growing consensus that the multimedia principle is one of the most recognized principles of learning. The literature consistently demonstrates that courses with words and graphics are better received and people learn more deeply than just words alone. In 10 studies, learners’ understanding increased by 89% in the material that included images or video compared to text-only resources.

Guidelines for Use

Guideline 1 – Include Both Words and Graphics

Words can include both written or spoken. Graphics can include static illustrations such as drawings, charts, graphs, maps or photos and dynamic graphics such as animation or video.

Guideline 2 – Pictures Should Not Be an Afterthought

When using graphics, they should carefully be integrated and planned together with the words so they create meaning to the learner.

Guideline 3 – Select Graphics That Are Relevant

The type of optimal graphics is organizational, transformational, and interpretive. These are superior to presenting a decorative picture. For example, in a module about cellular biology, a labeled diagram (organizational) would be superior to a cartoon picture of a cell with a smiley face (decorative).

Guideline 4 – Multimedia Principle Works Best for Novices

Novice learners can find more meaning and integrate knowledge better through a multimedia approach. When learners are experts on a subject it may not be as important to have as many graphics as experts tend to create their own versions of images while reading text.

Good Examples of Use

Example 1 – Khan Academy: Genetic Linkage & Mapping

This page has a good mix between text and carefully thought out graphics. It helps create meaning and connections to the material being taught.

Example 2 – Crash Course: Biology Videos

These videos use spoken words and have closed captioning to follow along. There is a great use of animation helping a learner visualize the very complex inner processes of a cell. The only criticism is the material may be presented at too fast of a pace. This can be overcome by pausing and re-watching content that may have been hard to absorb the first time.

Helpful Resources

Resource 1 – Blog Post on Using the Multimedia Principle

11 minutes read titled: 5 Multimedia Principles You Need to Know to Design Interactive Courses

Resource 2 – University of Buffalo

A very brief read summarizing multimedia design theory.

Resource 3 – UW School of Medicine

A summary of Dr. Rich Mayer’s principles of multimedia including links to his taks at Harvard University.


Clark, R.C., & Lyons, C. (2011). Graphics for learning (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Fletcher, J.D., & Tobias, S. (2005). The multimedia principle. In R.E. Mayer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning (pp. 117–134). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mayer, R.E., Hegarty, M., Mayer, S., & Campbell, J. (2005). When static media promote active learning: Annotated illustrations versus narrated animations in multimedia instruction. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 11, 256–265.


Submitted by: Dr. Jory Basso
Web Page:
Bio: Dr. Jory Basso is an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and has built and facilitated online Science courses in addition to traditional on-ground lectures and labs. He also serves as a Faculty Lead overseeing and training adjunct instructors. You can find many educational videos on his YouTube channel: HybridDrJ


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E-Learning Essentials 2020 Copyright © 2020 by Power Learning Solutions is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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