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Richard E. Mayer: Applying the Science of Learning

Richard E. Mayer: Applying the Science of Learning

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Richard E. Mayer: Applying the Science of Learning: Evidence Based Principles for the Design of Multimedia Instruction
Richard E. Mayer: Applying the Science of Learning: Evidence Based Principles for the Design of Multimedia Instruction

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Published by: avitechwriter on Jul 06, 2010
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teaching: Do students learn more deeply when they in-teract with animated pedagogical agents?
Cognition and  Instruction, 19
, 177–213.
Applying the Science of Learning: Evidence-Based Principles for the Design of MultimediaInstruction
 Richard E. MayerUniversity of California, Santa Barbara
 During the last 100 years, a major accomplishment of  psychology has been the development of a science of learning aimed at understanding how people learn. Inattempting to apply the science of learning, a centralchallenge of psychology and education is the development of a science of instruction aimed at understanding how to present material in ways that help people learn. Theauthor provides an overview of how the design of multimedia instruction can be informed by the science of learning and the science of instruction, which yields 10 principles of multimedia instructional design that aregrounded in theory and based on evidence. Overall, therelationship between the science of learning and thescience of instruction is reciprocal.
science of learning, science of instruction, mul-timedia learning, instructional design, evidence-based prac-tice
Suppose you want to design (or select) (a) a computer-based training program to teach employees how to use anew database program, (b) a biology textbook for highschool students, (c) an instructional video game aimed atpromoting healthy eating, or even (d) a PowerPoint presen-tation on a topic in educational psychology. Each of theseis an example of what I call a multimedia instructionalmessage—a lesson containing words (e.g., printed words orspoken words) and pictures (e,g., illustrations, photos, ani-mation, or video) that is intended to foster learning. Howwould you decide the best way to present your multimediainstruction? To help answer this question, you need someway of judging whether a proposed instructional method isconsistent with research-based theories of how people learn(i.e., the science of learning) and evidence-based principlesof how to design instruction (i.e., the science of instruc-tion).Let’s consider three approaches to the relation betweentheory and practice (Mayer, 1992). In the one-way streetapproach, psychologists develop a theory of how peoplelearn that is based on research, and educators apply thetheory in their lessons. The problem with the one-waystreet approach is that a clear specification of how peoplelearn does not automatically yield a clear specification of effective instructional methods and materials. In the deadend street approach, psychologists busy themselves inbuilding a theory of learning that is not closely related toauthentic educational challenges—such as studying howlaboratory animals run mazes or how adults memorizeword lists—while educators seek research that determinesthe best method of instruction without regard to how orwhy it works. Finally, in the two-way street approach,there is a reciprocal relation between learning theory andeducational practice in which the science of learning mustbe expanded to be able to explain how learning works inauthentic learning situations, and the science of instructionmust be expanded to consider the conditions for each in-structional principle based on an understanding of how thehuman mind works.Figure 1 summarizes the relation between basic re-search—which has been attributed to the science of learn-ing (SOL)—and applied research–—which has been attrib-uted to the science of instruction (SOI). A defining featureof the science of instruction is a focus on authentic learn-ing situations rather than contrived learning situations, soFigure 1 shows “SOI” in the two quadrants on the right. Adefining feature of the science of learning is a focus ontesting learning theory, so “SOL” is shown in the twoquadrants at the bottom of the figure. The four quadrants inFigure 1 are inspired by the work of Stokes (1997). Thetop left quadrant—conducting nontheoretical studies oncontrived learning situations—is consistent with neither theSOL nor the SOI and is unlikely to yield information thatis helpful for theory or practice. The top right quadrant—conducting nontheoretical studies on authentic tasks—isconsistent with the SOI but not with the SOL. It representspure applied research that is consistent with the dead endstreet approach. The result is likely to be a set of empiri-cally based design principles that are of limited applicabil-ity because they are not tied to an understanding of how orwhy they work. The bottom left quadrant—conducting the-Editor’s Note
 Richard E. Mayer received the Award for Distinguished Contributions of Applications of Psychology to Educationand Training. Award winners are invited to deliver anaward address at the APA’s annual convention. A versionof this award address was delivered at the 116th annualmeeting, held August 14–17, 2008, in Boston, Massachu-setts. Articles based on award addresses are reviewed, but they differ from unsolicited articles in that they are expres-sions of the winners’ reflections on their work and their views of the field.
760 November 2008
American Psychologist
oretical studies on contrived tasks—is consistent with theSOL but not with the SOI. This quadrant represents purebasic research that is consistent with the one-way streetapproach. The result is likely to be a research-based theoryof limited applicability, because it can explain learning incontrived lab settings but not necessarily in real-world set-tings. Finally, the bottom right quadrantconducting theo-retical studies on authentic tasks—is consistent with boththe SOL and the SOI. This type of research reflects a two-way street approach, which Stokes (1997, p. 73) called“use-inspired basic research” and which I call
basic re-search on applied problems.
In this article, I explore thebenefits of conducting basic research on applied problemsby merging the goals of the science of learning and thescience of instruction.My goal in this article is to show how it is possible toconduct educational research that simultaneously appliesthe science of learning to an authentic practical problem(i.e., moving from the lower left quadrant of Figure 1 tothe lower right quadrant) and grounds the science of in-struction in research-based theory (moving from the upperright quadrant of Figure 1 to the lower right quadrant). Inthe following sections, I provide an overview of how thedesign of multimedia instruction can be informed by thescience of learning and by the science of instruction, and Iend the article with a closer look at principles of multime-dia instructional design that are grounded in theory andbased on evidence.
The Science of Learning
What is learning?
During the past 100 years, a major ac-complishment of psychology has been the development of a science of learning aimed at understanding how peoplelearn. In particular, learning is a change in the learner’sknowledge that is attributable to experience. Learning de-pends on the learner’s cognitive processing during learningand includes (a) selecting—attending to the relevant incom-ing material; (b) organizing—organizing the incoming ma-terial into a coherent mental representation; and (c) inte-grating—relating the incoming material with existingknowledge from long-term memory.
What is multimedia learning?
Multimedia learning islearning from words and pictures. The words can beprinted text or spoken text. The pictures can be in staticform, such as illustrations, photos, diagrams, charts, ormaps, or in dynamic form, such as animation or video. Ex-amples of multimedia learning include watching and listen-ing to a narrated animation, reading a science textbook,playing an educational video game, or attending a Power-Point presentation.
 How does multimedia learning work?
The most rele-vant elements in a science of learning are (a) dual chan-nels—the idea that humans possess separate channels forprocessing visual and verbal material; (b) limited ca-pacity—the idea that each channel can process only a smallamount of material at any one time; and (c) active process-ing—the idea that deep learning depends on the learner’scognitive processing during learning (e.g., selecting, orga-nizing, and integrating).Figure 2 summarizes the cognitive theory of multimedialearning, which is intended as a framework for explaininghow multimedia learning works (Mayer, 2001). The boxesrepresent memory stores, and the arrows represent cogni-tive processes. The cognitive theory of multimedia learningis consistent with the three learning principles summarizedabove. On the left in Figure 2, the learner begins with thewords and pictures in a multimedia instructional mes-sage—which can be a textbook lesson, an online presenta-tion, an interactive game, or even a PowerPoint presenta-tion. In the second column—Sensory Memory—spokenwords impinge on the ears and are represented briefly inauditory sensory memory, whereas pictures and printedwords impinge on the eyes and are represented briefly invisual sensory memory. In the third column—the leftmostpart of Working Memory—the learner selects some soundsfor further processing in the verbal channel and some im-ages for further processing in the pictorial channel (andmay convert printed text into spoken text, which is alsoprocessed in the verbal channel). In the next column—therightmost part of Working Memory—the learner organizes
Figure 1
The Overlap Between Theoretical and Practical Research
 No SOI: Addressesa contrived learningsituationSOI: Addresses anauthentic learningsituationSOL and SOISOI onlySOL only No SOL:Does not testlearning theorySOL: Testslearningtheory
science of instruction; SOL
science of learning.
761November 2008
American Psychologist
some of the sounds into a verbal model and organizessome of the images into a pictorial model. In the final col-umn—Long-Term Memory—the learner can activate priorknowledge to be integrated with the verbal and pictorialmodels in working memory and can store the resultingknowledge in long-term memory.
Selecting words
selecting images
involve attendingto relevant incoming material entering the ears and eyes,respectively.
Organizing words
organizing images
in-volve building coherent cognitive structures for the verbalmaterial and the pictorial material, respectively.
refers to building appropriate connections between the ver-bal and pictorial representations in working memory aswell as relevant prior knowledge activated from long-termmemory.
The Science of Instruction
What is instruction?
In attempting to apply the science of learning, a central challenge of psychology and educationis the development of a science of instruction aimed at un-derstanding how to help people learn. Instruction refers tothe instructor’s manipulations of the environment that areintended to foster changes in knowledge in the learner. Thescience of instruction is concerned with how to presentmaterial in ways that prime appropriate cognitive process-ing during learning.
What is a learning objective?
If learning is a change inthe learner’s knowledge that is due to experience, then afirst step in instructional design is to clearly describe theintended change in knowledge (Anderson et al., 2001). Aninstructional objective is a clear description of the intendedlearning outcome.
What is a learning outcome?
A learning outcome refersto the change in the learner’s knowledge as a result of in-struction. “Knowing what students know” (Pellegrino, Chu-dowsky, & Glaser, 2001, p. 1) is a basic challenge of thescience of educational measurement. Two classic ways tomeasure learning outcomes are retention tests, which focuson remembering, and transfer tests, which focus on under-standing. In a retention test, the learner is asked to recall orrecognize parts of the presented material, as reflected in theitem “Please write down everything you can rememberfrom the lesson you just received.” In a transfer test, thelearner is asked to evaluate or use what was presented in anew situation, such as in the item “Please tell how youwould improve the reliability of the device you just readabout.”
 How does instruction work?
The central issue in thescience of instruction concerns how to help people learn.Instruction works by priming appropriate cognitive pro-cessing in the learner during learning, that is, by guidingthe learner’s selecting of relevant material, organizing of the material into a coherent cognitive representation, andintegrating of the representation with other relevantknowledge. The central challenge of instructional designis how to encourage learners to engage in appropriatecognitive processing during learning while not overload-ing the processing capacity of the verbal or pictorialchannel.Key elements in the science of instruction are (a) reduc-ing extraneous processing—cognitive processing that doesnot support the instructional goal and is attributable to con-fusing instructional design; (b) managing essential process-ing—cognitive processing needed to mentally represent theincoming material and that is attributable to the complexityof the material; and (c) fostering generative processing—cognitive processing aimed at making sense of the incom-ing material, including organizing it and integrating it withprior knowledge (Mayer, 2005; Sweller, 1999).
Figure 2
Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning
WORKING MEMORYPictorialModelVerbalModelPicturesWordsintegratingLONG-TERMMEMORYselectingimagesselectingwordsorganizingimagesorganizingwordsSENSORYMEMORYEarsEyesPrior Knowledge
Reprinted from “Cognitive Constraints on Multimedia Learning: When Presenting More Material Results in Less Understanding,” R. E. Mayer, H. Heiser, & S. Lonn,2001,
Journal of Educational Psychology, 93,
Figure 2, p. 190. Copyright 2001 by the American Psychological Association.
762 November 2008
American Psychologist

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