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VStream: Multimedia learning principles

Lecture capture involves the use and presentation of multimedia. Richard Mayer and colleagues spent ten years researching the principles of multimedia and their effect on learning. They developed a framework of key cognitive principles to explain how learners learn optimally from using multimedia material. These principles offer insight into how students respond to elements in your lecture and in your lecture recordings and what simple strategies can be put in place to optimise student learning of your materials. PowerPoint presentations are often a large component of a lecturing and review strategy so apply the principles of multimedia to your use of PowerPoint to promote student learning in the both the live lecture and lecture review (recording) modes.

Key points

Mayer’s principles for the design of multimedia learning emphasise a learner-centred approach to instructional technology that uses a research-based theory of multimedia and how it can be used to foster student learning. These principles can be applied to ensuring effective face-to-face teaching using multimedia and also to optimising learners’ ability to review the lecture recordings;

  • The essential multimedia principle is that if multiple sensory channels can be allowed for in the design of a presentation, learning can become more effective. Learners benefit more from words and pictures than from words alone;
  • Integral to the design of the multi-modal learning environments is the premise that students learn in different ways and that each student has a preferred learning modality
  • The learner has a visual information processing system and a verbal information processing system;
  • The learner selects incoming verbal information, organises it and applies it to incoming visual information and then integrates the verbal and visual information and builds connections using it. So when learners are given multimedia explanations, they are able to build two different mental representations--a verbal model and a visual model--and build connections between them;
  • When learning environments are designed to cater to multiple sensory channels, information processing can become more effective;
  • An important feature of multimedia is that if not handled correctly, it may prove detrimental to the learning process, as multiple representations on the screen may place additional, and quite often unnecessary cognitive demands on a learner;

Primary assumptions

The three primary assumptions of Mayer and his colleagues are:

  1. Visual and auditory experiences/information are processed through separate and distinct information processing “channels”.
  2. Each information-processing channel is limited in its ability to process experience or information.
  3. Processing experience or information in channels is an active cognitive process designed to construct coherent mental representations.

  • Cognitive overload can be reduced by ‘pre-training’ - where learners receive prior instruction concerning the components in the to-be-learned system. The concept of the inverted lecture or flipped classroom is that lecture material is ‘pre-loaded’ through having been introduced to students prior to a lecture. This might take the form of a separate introduction to a topic (possibly using audio or multimedia) or a ‘seed’ question for students to consider or a problem-solving activity that will need the help of the lecture material to solve etc.
  • ‘Segmenting’ successive segments of a presentation helps to break down the instruction into bite-size segments. Dividing lecture material into ‘chunks’ and designing the lecture with clear sequences (beginning, middle, end or teach, discuss, think and reflect etc.) assists this goal. Segmenting also helps the recorded lecture or other material to be more easily cued, reviewed and understood, if it is structured into meaningful segments;
  • ‘Weeding’ helps to reduce cognitive overload by eliminating any material to be taught which might be extraneous, even although interesting. Considering what content might be taken out of a lecture (possibly to be shifted online as a reading activity) or what examples are superfluous to a theory or concept being understood, helps to make the material that is kept, tighter and more focused;
  • ‘Signalling’ is a way of providing cues to the learner about how to select and organise the material to be learned. Giving learners verbal cues in the live lecture regarding why this lecture is important, how it fits with and builds upon the last lecture, how it leads to the next lecture etc. helps to make the structure easier and scaffolds student learning opportunities both in and after the live lecture. Other ‘signals’ might be used to mark lecture sequences, such as ‘Now I want you to think of another example...’ or ‘Let’s stop and review what we have learned so far...’ or ‘What should you be thinking about for the next lecture...?’. These signals translate well into the lecture recordings where the cues and signals and structure help the review of the lecture to be more effective and meaningful. Students know where to cue the recording to, in order to recreate the markers that prompt them to think about the material.
  • Aligning words and pictures for learners (having aural and visual material presented together) reduces cognitive load. This is often done well on a PowerPoint slide. The important aspect is not to scatter the learner information across several slides if the essential elements that relate together can be combined in a single slide;
  • ‘Eliminating redundancy’ means eliminating or reducing redundant presentation by NOT having words presented both as narration AND simultaneously as on-screen text. Learners have difficulty processing the visual text as well as listening to a narration of the text at the same time. This is a familiar scenario with PowerPoint presentations where sometimes text on a PowerPoint slide will be read aloud. The recommendation is to leave learners to read the text for themselves or to separate verbal comments from the actual slide text and don’t expect learners to both read the text and listen to a different aural commentary at the same time;


  • Multimedia Principle: Students learn better from words and pictures than from words alone. On-screen animation, slide shows and narratives should involve both written or oral text and still or moving pictures. Relevant illustrations, diagrams, charts or the Sympodiums (for annotating text on PowerPoint slides in real time), reinforce the learning experience;
  • Spatial Contiguity Principle: Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near rather than far from each other on the page or screen. When presenting coupled text and images, the text should be close to or embedded within the images. Placing text under an image is sufficient, but placing the text within the image is more effective. The important aspect is to make text and graphics as integrated as possible for maximum effect;
  • Temporal Contiguity Principle: Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively. Keep the text and visual material together. This has implications for how you present the information on PowerPoint slides. Try not to have a slide of text and then a slide of a graphic illustrating the text on the previous slide. Think of each PowerPoint slide (a slide can be saved as a jpeg image) as an entity in itself, with integrated image and text;
  • Coherence Principle: Students learn better when extraneous words, pictures, and sounds are excluded rather than included. Multimedia presentations should focus on clear and concise presentations. Extraneous information can impede learning. Keep the text on PowerPoint slides short and keep to the recommended font size and large-text bullet points. Eliminate unnecessary information and consider other ways of adding depth to the information you present using PowerPoint;
  • Modality Principle: Students learn better from animation and narration than from animation and onscreen text. Multimedia presentations involving both words and pictures should be created using spoken words, rather than written text, to accompany the pictures. This emphasises the importance of audio commentary. VStream has an mp3 audio version of the lecture recording (a Podcast) so always keep in mind your audio ‘track’ in the lecture. Could the audio commentary stand alone as a review of the lecture? Listen to the Podcast version of one of your lectures and sense whether instructions, ‘signals’ and ‘segmenting’ are signposted clearly in the audio commentary. Students in the live lecture will appreciate such prompts as well so designing your lecture material in an optimum way for both face-to- face and online audiences is worthwhile;
  • Redundancy Principle: Students learn better from animation and narration than from animation, narration, and on-screen text. Multimedia presentations involving both words and pictures should present text either in written form, or in verbal form, but not in both. This suggests that lecturer commentary and explanations should be designed not to unwittingly hinder learners’ ability to process the material when presented alongside a visual resource such as PowerPoint. Minimising verbal repetition of material that is also written in text on PowerPoint slides etc. can help.
  • Individual Differences Principles: The impact of these strategies is stronger for low- knowledge learners than for high-knowledge learners. Thus multimodal learning may be of greater benefit to lower-achieving students, while higher achieving students may perform well regardless of how the content is presented. This also implies that multimedia learning is beneficial at the beginning of a course, where most if not all students have ‘low-knowledge’ of the course material being introduced. There is also anecdotal evidence that students do make more use of lecture recordings in the first few weeks of the course, reinforcing this notion that students perceive multimedia as aiding their understanding of learning material.

Also consider...

  • In the case of multimedia presentations, students tend to learn more when less is presented
  • Students anecdotally express a strong preference for a combination of learning resources and options. Using VStream lecture or other recordings to supplement face-to face material can potentially satisfy this preference well
  • ‘Chunking’ material in the live lecture helps students to integrate verbal, textual and visual information better and assists students when reviewing lecture or other recordings. Shorter chunks are generally more effective than longer ones
  • PowerPoint presentations are often a large component of a lecturing and review strategy (e.g. PowerPoint files uploaded to Blackboard and captured in lecture recordings) so apply the principles of multimedia to your use of PowerPoint to promote student learning in the both the live lecture and lecture review modes.

Acknowledgements and sources


Doolittle, P. E. (2002). Multimedia Learning: Empirical Results and Practical Applications. Retrieved from

Mayer, R. E., & Moreno, R. (2007). A Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning: Implications for Design Principles. Retrieved from

Mayer, R. E., & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning. Educational Psychologist, 38(1). Retrieved from

Sankey, M. D., Birch, D., & Gardiner, M. W. (2011). The impact of multiple representations of content using multimedia on learning outcomes across learning styles and modal preferences. International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology (IJEDICT), 7(3). Retrieved from

Sankey, M., & Smith, A. Multimodal Design Considerations for Developing Hybrid Course Materials: An Issue of Literacy. Paper presented at the The Third Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning. from

Credit and Acknowledgement