Multimedia learning

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Editor: Mireille Bétrancourt, TECFA, Faculty of Psychology and Education, university of Geneva, Switzerland

Contributors: …/…


Multimedia Learning is a form of learning supported by different sources of information (e.g. text and graphics) being handled jointly in order to understand and memorize a given content (facts, concept, procedure…).

Comments on the history

Multimedia learning emerged from the field of text comprehension. In the 1970s, it was observed that including pictures in the text dramatically increased comprehension and memorization of text information (see the review from Levie & Lentz, 1982). A large body of research was carried out to identify the underlying cognitive processes explaining the positive effect of pictures in learning from text (Mandl & Levin, 1989; Johnson-Laird, 1983; Schnotz, 2001). Simultaneously, another current was focusing on the instructional issues: what pictures help which learners for what learning outcomes? This double theoretical and instructional objective is still very present in the current research and large body of recommendations for the design of effective multimedia instruction is now available (e.g., Mayer, 2005).

Related terms

Multiple representation, external representation, multimedia instruction

Translation issues

French: Apprendre à partir d’informations multimédia ; Compréhension de documents multimédia.
German: Wissenserwerb mit Multimedia.

Disciplinary issues

By multimedia (Mayer 2001, p. 2) is meant the presentation of material using both words (e.g. printing or spoken text) and pictures (e.g. static graphics, including graphs photos, maps, or dynamic graphics, including animation or video); hence the definition of multimedia learning as learning with multiple representations. However, multimedia learning is often mistaken as multimodal learning, in the sense of learning through different sensory channels (auditory, visual, kinesthetic). For example, learning from auditory and written text would not be considered as multimedia learning in its original sense. However, multimedia learning also considers the modality issues, especially in the case where different media are conveyed through different sensory modalities. Interactivity is also a major issue in Multimedia learning, that then get close to the concept of simulation.

Key references

[1] Johnson-Laird P. N. (1983) Mental Models: Toward a Cognitive Science of Language, Inference and Consciousness. Harvard University Press.

[2] Levie W. H., Lentz R. (1982) Effects of text illustrations: A review of research. Educational Communication and Technology, 30(4), 195-233.

[3] Mandl, H., Levin J.R. (1989) Knowledge acquisition from text and pictures, North-Holland, Amsterdam (1989).

[4] Mayer R. E. (2001) Multimedia learning. New York: Cambridge University Press.

[5] Mayer R. E. (Ed). (2005) Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning. New York: Cambridge University Press.

[6] Schnotz W. (2001) Sign systems, technologies, and the acquisition of knowledge. In J.F. Rouet, J.J. Levonen, & A. Biardeau, A. (Eds.), Multimedia learning: Cognitive and instructional issues (pp. 9-29). Amsterdam: Elsevier.