Mayer, R. E. (2008). Applying the science of learning: Evidence-based principles for the design of multimedia instructionAmerican psychologist63(8), 760.


In education, the relationship between theory and practice has been studied for more than 100 years. When speaking about learning, psychologists have developed three approaches to the relation between practice and theory. The one-way street approach suggests that psychologists use research to develop a theory on how people learn and educators implement this theory in their instruction. With this approach, there is no correlation between how people learn and effective instructional materials and methods.  In the dead-end street approach, psychologists build a theory of learning that is not related to authentic educational challenges. This approach does not distinguish the educators need to instruct based on how and why something works. The final approach, two-way street approach, has a relationship between educational practice and learning theory. In order for this approach to be successful, learning theory needs to include how learning works in authentic learning situations. There needs to be a direct correlation between the science of learning and the science of instruction. This article focuses on how multimedia instruction can apply the science of learning to authentic practical problems, grounded in research-based theory (Mayer, 2008).

Key Points

Science of Learning

  • Learning
    • Change in the learner’s knowledge based on experience
    • Depends on the learner’s cognitive processing
      • Selecting relevant information
      • Organizing this information
      • Relating this information to prior learning
  • Multimedia Learning- learning from words and pictures
    • Words can be spoken or printed text
    • Pictures dynamic (animated) form or static (non-animated)
    • Examples:
      • Reading a social studies textbook
      • Watching and listening to a video clip
      • Playing an educational game
      • Powerpoint presentations
  • How does multimedia learning work?
    • Dual channels
      • separate channels to process visual and verbal material
    • Limited capacity
      • a small amount of material at a time
    • Active processing
      • Deep learning is dependent on the cognitive process during learning

The Science of Instruction

  • Instruction
    • Instructor’s manipulations of the environment that are intended to promote changes in knowledge
    • How to present material that engages cognitive processes
  • Learning Objective
    • A clear description of the intended learning outcome
  • Learning Outcome
    • Change in the learner’s knowledge because of instruction
    • Two ways to measure
      • Retention tests that focus on remembering and recalling information
      • Transfer tests that focus on understanding by using the presented information in a different way
  • How does instruction work?
    • Guiding the selection of relevant information, organizing this information and integrating new information with existing information
    • Challenge of instructional design is to encourage cognitive processes during learning without overloading processing capacity
    • Key elements
      • Fostering generative processing
      • Reducing extraneous processing
      • Managing essential processing

Design Principles and Explanations

When designing multimedia instruction, there must be a correlation between the sciences of instruction and learning. Instruction should include pictures and words. Based on experiments conducted by the author and colleagues, 10 evidence-based principles were developed.  These principles are based on the cognitive theory of multimedia learning, including dual channels, limited capacity, and active learning. Five principles for reducing extraneous processing, three principles for managing essential processing, and two principles for fostering generative processing were summarized (Mayer, 2008).

The five principles for reducing extraneous processing are coherence, signaling, redundancy, spatial contiguity, and temporal contiguity. The coherence principal reduces extraneous material. People tend to learn better when nonrelevant information is omitted. Next, the signaling principle reiterates the importance of essential words being highlighted. The redundancy principle describes the importance of taking out redundant information. For example, instead of having animation, narration, and on-screen text, have animation OR narration/ on-screen text. Spatial contiguity refers to how closely the corresponding words and pictures are from each other on the screen or page. The final principle for reducing extraneous processes is temporal contiguity. This principle suggests corresponding narration and animation should be presented simultaneously instead of successively (Mayer, 2008).

Managing essential processing is the next phase of designing effective multimedia instruction, which includes three principles. The segmenting principle revolves around the idea that learners learn better in self-paced segments rather than a continuous presentation. The modality principle says that people learn better from graphics with spoken text rather than graphics with printed text. Included in the modality principle is the idea of split attention, which means, learners cannot look at the animation while looking at the words and vice versa. To combat this, speak the information instead of using text. Finally, the pretraining attention principle outlined the importance of providing prior learning of names, locations, and characteristics of key components before jumping into animated instruction for the same content (Mayer, 2008).

The last two principles for designing multimedia instruction help foster generative processing. First, the multimedia principle suggests that people learn better from pictures and words than from words alone. This allows connections to be made between pictorial and verbal representations of the information. Lastly, the personalization principle focuses on how important the wording is for multimedia lessons. Mayer suggests using conversation style as opposed to formal style in reference to the wording used in this type of instruction (Mayer, 2008).

These ten principles demonstrate the relationship between the science of instruction and the science of learning. Understanding how people learn helps researchers identify instructional design features. Being able to link what works best in authentic instruction and research is essential for the design of multimedia instruction (Mayer, 2008).

Discussion Questions

  1. Of the five principles, which do you feel is most important when designing multimedia instruction? Why do you feel this way?
  2. There are three principles for managing essential processes, which is the most beneficial for students and why?
  3. Of the two principles to foster generative processing which is the most important and why?

Additional Resources

12 Principles of Multimedia Learning- http://hartford.edu/academics/faculty/fcld/data/documentation/technology/presentation/powerpoint/12_principles_multimedia.pdf


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