A journal entry from CUTL 5106:
One of the things I learned about in this unit that has made me reflect most on my teaching practice was Mayer’s Principles of Multimedia Learning (Mayer, 2002; 2005). This consists of a list of twelve principles, based largely on a cognitive approach to learning, that Mayer suggests should be considered when preparing multimedia teaching and learning materials.
I like the way that these are presented as a list of key principles – Mayer is being consistent with his own ideas by producing a simple list of concise, numbered, short sentences that can be easily digested and understood. I find these principles intuitive and realistic, and, as a scientist, it is reassuring to have some familiar, evidence-based theory to work with. Also, in the sciences, a huge amount of content is knowledge based; teaching facts and requiring students to digest large amounts of information in short spaces of time. In some cases lecture-based classes using powerpoint slides is the only feasible way to cover the material in the time, however much one might like to shift the balance towards more interactive tasks.
However, Mayer’s Principles offer an opportunity to get the most from the lecture format, acting as guidelines for ensuring that presentations are engaging, informative and effective.
While studying the various principles, I was able to divide them into different categories.
Firstly, there are those that I already adhere to fairly well, for example the Multimedia Principle – “People learn better from words and pictures than from words”; I know this to be true for myself therefore have always endeavored to include relevant images on all of my slides alongside text. I am also happy to see the Personalization Principle mentioned: “People learn better from multimedia lessons when words are in conversational style rather than formal style” as well as the Voice Principle – “People learn better when the narration in multimedia lessons is spoken in a friendly human voice rather than a machine voice”, as I feel that this is one of the reasons that regardless of improved technologies and connectedness, a face-to-face lecture will always have some place, as they allow a conversation between lecturer and student and this really adds another to the dimension material that cannot be conveyed by typed or scripted words alone. I use minimal text (bullet points) on my slides (much to the dismay of some students) and elaborate on these greatly in my speech, which is never scripted or written down. I am further reassured by the Image Principle – “People do not necessarily learn better from a multimedia lesson when the speaker’s image is added to the screen” as one of the courses I teach is online only, and although we have live audio-visual lectures, the bandwidth and other logistics prevents sharing my video image during lectures. But according to Mayer, perhaps this isn’t of great consequence.
Then, there are those that do not incorporate yet I imagine are true, and will strive to incorporate into my future teaching. For example, the signaling principle – “People learn better when cues that highlight the organization of the essential material are added”. I do this to an extent (i.e. listing structure at beginning of lecture), but have resisted incorporating more completely (i.e including the list between each section) as it often seems like a redundant thing to include a slide between sections to let the students know which sections have been/will be covered when time is short. However, I will consider doing this more explicitly in future (i.e. re-showing the list of sections with the relevant part highlighted). The Temporal Contiguity Principle – “People learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively” also gives me food for thought, as I previously did not pay too much attention to whether connected words and images were presented simultaneously, so long as they were ultimately on the same slide. Now I will plan to take more care to present the corresponding words and pictures at the same time, so that they will be more likely associated in the minds of my students.
I have some issues with the Coherence Principle – “People learn better when extraneous words, pictures and sounds are removed”. I can see why this would be the case, as more things going on in the class might divide attention, but at the same time I think that the definition of ‘extraneous’ is hard to pinpoint, and what appears to be superfluous may actually add context to certain learning objectives. Also, this, and many of the principles, are in danger of moving too far away from real-life situations where everyday learning takes place in a huge variety of contexts with many distractions, and it is actually a valuable skill to be able to pick out the useful information from the somewhat extraneous. I don’t mean that we should deliberately confuse students, but to go to extreme efforts to spoon feed only the most important information may be counterproductive.
In general, I found this a very useful and thought-provoking list of tangible things to apply in the classroom. I may not agree with all in practice (even if they work in theory), and some may not be feasible, nonetheless, it is extremely useful to have an evidence-based starting point for designing multimedia materials, and some theory behind the many decisions to be made when constructing powerpoints and other lecture-based presentations - I plan to print out this list and pin it up in my office for reference next time I am preparing a multimedia presentation!
Mayer, R. E. (2002). Multimedia learning. Psychology of learning and motivation, 41, 85-139.
Mayer, R. E. (Ed.). (2005). The Cambridge handbook of Mayer, R. E. (2002). Multimedia learning. Psychology of learning and motivation, 41, 85-139.multimedia learning. Cambridge university press.
This is a place where I can reflect upon both on my teaching experiences as a new lecturer, and on my learning experiences as a student on the Certificate of University Teaching and Learning course.