The Case for Multimedia eLearning

The multi media principle – which states that people learn more deeply from a combination of both words and pictures rather than words alone -,is the fundamental theory on which successful eLearning is based.

In his paper titled *Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning Richard E Mayer cites the CTML  (Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning ) which is based on 3 cognitive science principles for learning:

1. The human information processing system includes dual channels for visual and verbal processing
2. Each channel has a limited capacity for learning
3. Active learning entails carrying out a co-ordinated set of cognitive processes during learning

These 5 cognitive processes

1. Selecting the relevant WORDS from the selected text or narration
2. Choosing the right IMAGES from the presented illustrations
3. Organising the words so they are coherent
4. Organising the images so that they are coherent
5. Integrating all the above so that they resonate with prior knowledge posessed by the learner

Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) states that people have a fixed cognitive capacity and so to make best use of it instructional designers should reduce ‘intrinsic cognitive load’ (e.g. the load it takes you to work out how to actually use the eLearning + all of the usual human stuff that’s going on) minimise ‘extraneous cognitive load’ (E.g. don’t have completely off-topic content, or distractions while key points are being relayed) in order to maximise ‘germane cognitive load’, which is the cognition that you’re using to absorb the eLearning.

The timing of essential information presented to students can be critical from a cognitive load perspective, with inappropriate timing unnecessarily increasing load. They suggest that general, overarching supportive information be presented first so that learners can construct a schema to be used throughout the task ”

It has been suggested that in the earliest stages of learning, when intrinsic cognitive load is high because few schemas are available, learners should study instructions; during intermediate stages when schema formation has freed some working memory capacity, they should study worked examples and increase germane load by using self-explanations; in the final stages, there should be sufficient working memory capacity to permit more problem solving.

So paying attention to the flow of the eLearning is important, to make sure that key points are delivered at the right moment.

Informed by cognitive load theory, our approach aims to minimise extraneous information and unnecessary cognitive load by presenting the learner with targeted and well timed key points through a variety of media. We do this by paying attention to the flow of the course and by taking care to make the user experience of our courses as seamless as possible.

So – what does this all mean for you as a buyer or user of eLearning?

Well it is evident through such research that merely presenting words on a page will not work for some – nor will overloading learners with highly interactive graphics without a verbal context.

However the key to brilliantly successful eLearning is not simple as merely adding pictures or graphics.

The most successful courses that eLearning companies produce are designed to be varied and present the learner with a range of interesting experiences to capture their attention and facilitate their learning.

Experienced Instructional designers know how to present even the most complex information using exactly the right combination of words graphics interactions, testing and re-testing of knowledge and understanding.

This is especially true of what some might consider dry subjects such as financial training or legal compliance – but here the need for interaction and deep understanding is greater than ever..

The context/ environment for learning also plays a key role in how it is received. Features such as the ability to slow down or speed up audio and text, the use of customised themes to aid individual learner experiences and the use of close captioning and language translation.

The courses that we produce are designed to be varied and present the learner with a range of interesting experiences to capture their attention and facilitate their learning. Our aim is to produce an experience that feels more like an active one-to-one experience with a tutor than a classroom or lecture theatre.

Attention span is critical to information comprehension and retention. The variation of stimuli that we weave into our courses is essential for encouraging attention and preventing habituation and switching off.

Using a range of media and interactions is not only effective in reinforcing attention, it also leverages the theory of multiple intelligences, or multiple learning styles, which suggests that different forms of learning can have a greater or lesser impact under certain circumstances. By presenting information using a variety of techniques, concurrently or sequentially, we aim to maximise the impact our courses can have.

We want our courses to be captivating and for the learning process to feel smooth and natural. It’s important to us that the structure and scaffolding of our courses does not get in the way of the learner’s engagement.

We seek to develop engaging courses and produce variation between our courses, as well as within them, by constantly innovating and developing novel means of information transmission, from relatable 3D scenarios, to real-world examples, to games and gamification.


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