A media model for e-learning content: Project Lifecycle 4

Today’s post discusses an approach to the delivery of multimedia content in an open (or indeed any) e-learning environment.

As Richard Mayer observes:

Multimedia messages that are designed in light of how the human mind works are more likely to lead to meaningful learning that those that are not. A cognitive theory of multimedia learning assumes that the human information processing system includes dual channels for visual/pictorial and auditory/verbal processing, that each channel has limited capacity for processing, and that active learning entails carrying out a coordinated set of cognitive processes during learning.

(2003, p.41)

Mayer’s Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning is based on three basic assumptions:

  1. Dual Channel Assumption: Humans have separate information processing channels for visually- and auditorily represented material. Information processing occurs in three stages (see Figure 1). Information enters our information processing system via either the visual or auditory processing channel. This is the input stage. The information is then processed separately but concurrently in working memory. Working memory can be thought of as RAM, where relevant sounds and pictures are selected and organized. Eventually the information from both channels are integrated and connected to other information already held in long term memory.
  2. Limited Capacity Assumption: People are limited in the amount of information that can be processed by each channel at any given time. Learners participating in any presentation can only hold a few images and a few sounds in working memory at one time. Psychologists have researched this concept of cognitive load extensively: while allowing for individual variability, memory span tests have demonstrated that on average, working memory typically allows the processing of from 5 to 7 chunks of information at a given time. Because of this restricted cognitive processing capability, people continually make decisions about the allocation of sensory information processing based upon the available stimuli.
  3. Active Processing Assumption: People actively engage in cognitive processing to construct coherent mental representations of their experiences. Rather than being passive ‘information collectors, people are constantly selecting, organising and integrating information with past knowledge. Active learning occurs when we apply cognitive processes to the incoming material. The result of this processing is the creation of a mental model of the information presented. The three processes that are essential for active learning are: selecting relevant material, organizing the selected material and then integrating that material into existing knowledge structures. These processes take place within our fairly limited working memory.

Figure 1 Cognitive Theory of Multimedia

From these, Mayer extrapolates a cognitive theory of multimedia learning. Mayer’s theory asserts that in multimedia environments, learners are engaged in five cognitive processes:

  1. Selecting relevant words for processing in verbal working memory
  2. Selecting relevant images for processing in visual working memory
  3. Organizing selected words into a verbal mental model
  4. Organizing selected images into a visual mental model
  5. Integrating verbal and visual models and connecting them to prior knowledge

As such, I would assert that a substantial proportion of the the initial design stage of the instructional development process is devoted to ensuring that the Split-Attention Principle (Mayer, Moreno 1998) – that students learn better when the instructional material does not require them to split their attention between multiple sources of mutually referring information, the Modality Principle – students learn better when the verbal information is presented auditorily as narration rather than visually as on-screen text, both for concurrent and sequential presentations and the Redundancy Principle – students learn better from animation and narration than from animation, narration, and text if the visual information is presented simultaneously to the verbal information were adhered to.



Mayer, R.E. (2003). Multimedia Learning New York, Cambridge University Press. Mayer, R.E.

Mayer, R.E., Moreno, R. (1998). A Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning: Implications for Design Principles. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Los Angeles, CA. University of California, Santa Barbara [Internet] Available from: http://www.unm.edu/~moreno/PDFS/chi.pdf Accessed 28th December 2009


  1. wow, great post! It’s so important to know theory when we are creating multimedia.

    Now I’m following you on twitter. 🙂

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