Rich Mayer is clearly missing a chapter in his book, the Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning. It should be titled “All the Ways that Common Sense Will Lead You Astray,” and would be a practitioner-oriented version of Chapter six on “Ten Common but Questionable Principles.” What follows is a brief outline for the missing chapter, which should give Dr. Mayer plenty of time to write before the third edition comes out.
Common Sense Says: Repetition is Useful!
As most teachers of fifteen-year-olds can attest, if you don’t say it at least five times, consider it forgotten. Given the number of times I have to go over the same things with students in live presentations (directions, expectations, etc), it seems fitting for a multimedia presentation that in order to help make the content really “sink in” I would repeat it a handful of times in slightly different ways. I could give verbal directions with scrolling text, then elaborate on the expectations just to reinforce the ideas. Based on my classroom teaching experience, common sense would seem to suggest that repetition of content is useful. False. According to the Redundancy Principle in Multimedia Learning, “redundant information interferes with... learning” because when the “same information is presented concurrently in multiple forms” or with excessive elaboration, the redundancy of the message may interfere with learning. The safer bet is to “eliminate redundant material” from a presentation.
Common Sense Says: More Ways is Better!
The second way in which common sense will lead you astray is by making you think that “more ways” is better. I’ve always thought that in order to teach the diverse population of learners in my class, I should reach out to all of them by crafting lessons that are inclusive of all of the different learning needs in my class. If everybody has an entry point to the lesson, it’s a good day! Although effective differentiation is still often seen as the high-water mark among educators for a productive lesson, some ways of scaffolding are apparently much more effective than others. Pulling learners in simultaneously through audio, images, media will likely just trigger the redundancy principle. Let’s focus instead on principles for reducing extraneous processing. The brain learns best when all the extraneous words, pictures, and sounds are ruthlessly pruned away. Instead of offering the same (redundant) message in many different forms, a clever curriculum designer would focus instead on principles like cueing, signaling, and spatial / temporal contiguity to help reinforce the assignment. The need to focus a message also made me think about this week's emphasis on voice editing and maximizing the one really great tool we have (the human voice!) by cutting out all the clutter of images, video, and other visuals. When we narrow in on just listening actively, the message becomes so much more clear.
Common Sense Says: Pretty and Interesting is Better Than Plain and Boring!
Let’s not even talk about the presentations I made in my first few years of teaching. I made some really pretty PowerPoints, complete with cool transitions, words that flew in from outer space, images that spun in circles, and of course, me reading all the words on the slide. I poured my attention into making sure my presentations were pretty and aesthetically pleasing. But, according to the coherence principle, I should instead have “eliminate[d] words, pictures, and sounds that are not relevant to the instructional goal.” Less really is more.
For more on my understanding of this week’s principles, check out the video I created for teachers new to creating effective multimedia presentations.