Media in Online Courses

Multimedia Development

As you develop multimedia content for your course, you will want to follow best practices to promote student learning. Multimedia simply means using words and graphics to deliver information to learners.

Richard Mayer, an educational psychologist, has researched cognitive theory and how to maximize learning. His work helps us understand that learners have a limited capacity for processing information. Through his research, Mayer has developed a series of multimedia principles. By following these principles, you will develop instructional materials which align with how students process information.

Mayer’s Multimedia Principles

Multimedia Principle – When possible, add graphics to text or words to enhance student learning. Text or narrated trainings are more understandable when combined with meaningful graphics/images. Graphics should not be decorative which can serve as a distraction. Rather, graphics/images should allow students to connect or organize information.

Contiguity Principle – Words and graphics should be integrated to optimize learning. Physically separating information increases cognitive load as learners have to search for meaning. Place text-based information as close to the graphic as possible. Keys and legends require extra work and violate this principle. In addition, apply this principle when providing directions and feedback. These should be close in proximity to the student’s work.

Modality Principle – This principle encourages the use of narrated formats rather than heavy text-based modalities. This is especially helpful for lower level learners. Information is easier to process when graphics and narrated formats are used in combination.

Redundancy Principle – Have you ever been to a training or conference where the presenter reads word for word from their PowerPoint presentation? In multimedia development, this should be avoided. As you create presentations, keep in mind that learners use dual channels to process information. This means that visual and verbal content are processed simultaneously. This is an effective method when graphics/images are combined with narration and minimal text. Adding excessive on-screen text, results in an additional visual input placing an excessive demand on the learner.

Coherence Principle – Keep essential information in each lesson and remove extraneous material which can distract from the main learning objectives. When using multimedia, it is best to keep it simple. Don’t add sounds and animations because you think it will make the material more interesting. Research indicates extraneous factors result in reduced learning.

Personalization Principle – Learners are more engaged with content when it appears to be presented in a less formal, conversational style. Consider using first and second person when narrating presentations. Students will be more engaged if the presentation feels more personal. In addition, consider the use of an avatar or virtual coach to help deliver the instruction.

Segmenting and Pretraining Principles – Previously in this training, you learned about chunking course material into manageable pieces. The same applies when creating multimedia presentations. Large or difficult concepts should be segmented into smaller pieces which allows students to slowly build their understanding. In addition, pretraining can be used to front load students with key concepts necessary to understand your presentation.


Clark, R., & Mayer, R. (2011). e-Learning and the Science of Instruction Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning (3rd ed.). Chichester: Wiley.

Additional Resources