Instructional Design Principles



Watch overview videoMultimedia Principle (3:26)


The multimedia principle, as set out by Richard Mayer in 2001, recommends that e-learning courses include words and graphics, as opposed to just words. Based on cognitive theory and research evidence, learners are more likely to understand material when they can actively engage with it. Multimedia presentations can encourage learners to engage in active learning by mentally representing the material in words and in pictures and by making connections between the pictorial and verbal representations.

Guidelines for Use

Guideline 1 – Pictures Should Not be an Afterthought

Pictures should not be an afterthought. Instead of selecting pictures after the words are written, instructional designers should consider how words and pictures work together to create meaning for the learner. Therefore, visuals as well as words should be planned together as the job analysis is conducted and the course is designed.

Guideline 2 – Selecting the Appropriate Combination of Content and Graphics

Depending on the type of information you plan to present, selecting the appropriate combination of content and graphic types is essential to creating material that fosters active learning. See table below for examples:

Table 1
Aligning  content and appropriate graphics
Content Type Content Description Useful Graphic Types* Graphic Examples
Facts Unique and isolated

information such as

specific application

screens, forms, or

product data



A screen capture

A table of parts’ names and specifications

Concepts Categories of objects,events, or symbols

designated by a single name




A tree diagram of

biological species

Three Excel formulas to illustrate formatting rules

Process A description of how

something works




Animations of how the heart pumps blood

Still diagrams to

illustrate how a bicycle pump works

An animation showing how a virus invades a cell

Procedure A series of steps

resulting in completion of a task

Transformational An animated

illustration of how to

use a spreadsheet

A diagram with arrows showing how to install a printer cable

Principle Guidelines that result in completion of a task; cause-and-effect




A video showing

two effective sales


An animation showing genes passing from

parents to offspring

Table 2
Definitions of graphic types
*Graphic Type Definition
Decorative Visuals added for aesthetic appeal or for humor
Representational Visuals that illustrate the appearance of an object
Organizational Visuals that show qualitative relationships among content
Relational Visuals that summarize quantitative relationships
Transformational Visuals that illustrate changes in time or over space
Interpretive Visuals that make intangible phenomena visible and concrete

Good Examples of Use

Example 1 – YouTube

This short video explains climate change. Through the skillful use of narration and appropriate graphics (in this case animations), viewers can easily connect the words to the images and make connections.

Example 2 – LinkedIn Learning

LinkedIn Learning is primarily aimed at the adult professional demographic group and offers a variety of professional development courses online. Many of these courses demonstrate the multimedia principle with graphics or animations combined with narrated slides.

Helpful Resources

Resource 1 –

This is a short and concise video explaining the multimedia principle.

Resource 2 –

This article provides some background to Richard Mayer as well as an explanation of his multimedia principle. There are also examples of graphic/ word combinations as used in real-life webpages.


Clark, R. & Mayer, R. (2008). E-Learning and the Science of Instruction, USA, Pfeiffer


Submitted by: Tobie Pilloy
Bio: Tobie Pilloy has been working in education for almost 2 decades. After working as a teacher for almost 10 years, he transitioned into management and is currently the Education Coordinator for English Testing Canada.


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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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