Academic journal article Human Factors

Principles of Educational Multimedia User Interface Design

Academic journal article Human Factors

Principles of Educational Multimedia User Interface Design

Article excerpt


Multimedia user interfaces combine various media, such as text, graphics, sound, and video, to present information. Because of improvements in technology and decreases in costs, many human factors engineers will soon be designing user interfaces that include multimedia. Many educators, parents, and students believe that multimedia helps people to learn, so one popular application of this technology will be the field of education.

Unfortunately, the existing educational multimedia user interface design guidelines are based almost entirely on the opinions of experts (e.g., Allen, 1974; Arens, Hovy, & Vossers, 1993; Feiner & McKeown, 1990, 1991; Reiser & Gagne, 1982) rather than on the results of empirical research. This provides a weak foundation on which to make design decisions and slows progress in making educational multimedia user interfaces more effective.

The purpose of this paper is to describe empirically based principles that multimedia user interface designers can employ to create applications that improve the likelihood that people will learn. The principles are derived from studies conducted in a wide variety of fields, including psychology, computer science, instructional design, and graphics design. The principles focus on educational multimedia applications. Other sources (e.g., Mayhew, 1992; Smith & Mosier, 1986) provide more general user interface design principles and guidelines.

In any learning situation, four basic factors should be considered when evaluating learning (Bransford, 1978; Jenkins, 1979): the characteristics of (a) the materials, (b) the learner, (c) the learning task, and (d) the test of learning.


The characteristics of the learning materials can significantly affect learning. Learning material characteristics include the medium, physical structure, psychological structure, conceptual difficulty, and sequence (Bransford, 1978). The following principles suggest ways to design the learning materials to improve learning.

Use the Medium That Best Communicates the Information

Although opinions differ (e.g., Clark, 1983; Mayer, 1997), limited evidence suggests that some media are better than others at communicating certain kinds of information (e.g., Najjar, 1996b). For example, when a learner needs to remember a small amount of verbal information for a short period of time, information that is presented via the auditory medium is generally remembered better than information that is presented via text. In one study (Murdock, 1968), learners recalled and recognized 10 items from a list better when they were presented using sound than when using text. This result is consistent (Penney, 1975; Watkins & Watkins, 1980). Studies that found conflicting results (e.g., Marcer, 1967; Sherman & Turvey, 1969) used long retention intervals or inappropriate instructions or scoring methods.

For retaining information over longer periods, text appears to be better than sound for communicating verbal information. Text was superior to sound when the verbal information was a list of words (Severin, 1967), instructions (Sewell & Moore, 1980), four-line poems (Menne & Menne, 1972), and nonsense syllables (Chan, Travers, & Van Mondfrans, 1965; Van Mondfrans & Travers, 1964). However, one study (Van Mondfrans & Travers, 1964) found no learning differences between auditory and textual words. Also, if the learner's visual channel is already occupied, then it may be more appropriate to use audio verbal information than textual information. This situation occurs, for example, when pictorial animations and auditory verbal information are presented together (e.g., Baggett & Ehrenfeucht, 1983; Mayer & Anderson, 1992).

A picture, it is commonly said, can be worth a thousand words. Pictures seem to help people learn information more effectively than text. This picture superiority effect appears to be strong. …

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