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How to successfully incorporate text, pictures and audio into your learning materials

Laura Frost_2015 Conference
Laura Frost, Ph.D.

Incorporating multimedia resources into learning materials is now standard practice, but according to Laura Frost, Director of the Whitaker Center for STEM Education and chemistry professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, it is important that educators incorporate text, pictures, and audio in ways that will be most useful for learners. Frost is also author of the textbook General, Organic, and Biological Chemistry 2e (Pearson).

In order to maximize the effectiveness of multimedia, Frost urges textbook authors, lecturers, and presenters to consider basing the creation and placement of figures and text on what we know about how the human brain processes and retains information. In a presentation at TAA’s 2015 conference entitled “Placement Matters! The Multimedia Principle,” Frost drew upon cognitive scientist Richard Mayer’s research on multimedia and learning to create guidelines for enhancing student learning.

Frost explained that according to the information processing model, when learners are exposed to educational material, input is first filtered through their sensory memory as the brain selects what information requires their attention. Next, the brain prioritizes the information and organizes it through the working memory before the information can be transferred into long term memory. In light of this model, Mayer and others have studied how placement of text, figures, and audio are processed and have developed important caveats for learning that were relayed by Frost during the presentation. It is important for educators to:

  1. Reduce extraneous processing by eliminating any cognitive processing that does not support the objective of the lesson;
  2. Manage essential processing by facilitating the basic cognitive processing required to mentally represent the material; and
  3. Foster generative processing, which is the deep thinking required to understand the material.

During her presentation, Frost focused primarily on the first of the above objectives, sharing several of Mayer’s multimedia principles that can help educators easily reduce unnecessary cognitive load for learners.

For example, according to the coherence principle, learning is enhanced when all extraneous content, whether it is presented as text, image, or audio, is excluded. This means that all images included on a textbook page should complement the text on that page as much as possible. For instance, if the text discusses warning labels on alcoholic beverages, the accompanying image should include a liquor bottle’s warning label only, rather than a photograph of the entire back side of the bottle. Likewise, a section discussing the joys of studying chemistry should include a picture of happy students in a lab rather than an image of a molecule.

Another key principle to consider is the spatial contiguity principle, which states that learning is enhanced when corresponding words and pictures are placed near each other. For example, if a textbook provides an illustration that depicts the evaporation, condensation, and precipitation stages in the water cycle as well as definitions of each stage, learning will be enhanced if the definitions can be incorporated into the graphic rather than presented off to the side. While Frost acknowledges that at times images may be separated from the accompanying text due to space constraints or other design factors, requiring students to hunt for the visual aid requires extra processing that interferes with the learning experience.

The other multimedia principles related to reducing extraneous processing are the signaling principle, which states that people learn better when cues highlight the main ideas and organization of the text; the redundancy principle, which states that people learn better from animation accompanied by narration than they do from a combination of animation, narration, and text; and the temporal contiguity principle, which states that people learn better when corresponding text and images are presented at the same time.

According to Frost, by relying on evidence-based multimedia principles when selecting and incorporating multimedia resources into educational content, students will have the opportunity to learn targeted content more deeply.

If you would like to listen to Frost’s complete presentation click here. Not a TAA member? Join today!