This report presents current learning theories that relate to multimedia use. It is important to understand how these learning theories apply to the instructional environment that faculty find themselves teaching in today's classroom. Textual information is often presented concurrently with visual information, but the way they are presented can improve or hinder the learning process of novice students. J Allied Health 2007; 36:176-179.
WITH THE INCREASING DEMAND to teach via computers and the Internet, it is important for educators to become familiar with how students learn best when using multimedia. Over the past two decades, there have been numerous studies on how visual information incorporated into instruction can foster meaningful learning.1"3 Initially researchers focused on illustrations that accompanied text, but with computer instruction different presentation modes are easily presented and are often needed for clarification when an instructor is not readily available. Multimedia can be defined in many ways, but this report refers to multimedia as a computer system using more than one format, such as text accompanied by an illustration or narration accompanied by an illustration.
While some researchers question the effectiveness of illustrations, others have offered evidence that they can be helpful.4,5 Mayer and Anderson discovered that illustrations along with narration helped increase students' recall and comprehension.6 Other studies have supported this same finding.7,8 This report will first discuss key theories that are being tested by the research and then will describe current findings of when visuals and narrations should be used in multimedia instruction, concluding with how the research findings can help educators effectively design instruction for multimedia environments.
Current Cognitive Theory
COGNITIVE LOAD THEORY AND SPLIT-ATTENTION EFFECT
Cognitive load theory, which is the notion that there is a limit to the information that can be processed in working memory at one time, has been used to explain the splitattention effect.9-12 Evidence has been provided that a high load on working memory can be detrimental to learning.13-15 The split-attention effect occurs when instructional formats present both visual and verbal information together in a signal format. This may be particularly important when the individual formats are unintelligible until they are integrated together. This can create an overload on working memory, making it more difficult to learn the information.16 This is a common occurrence in novice students when they try to mentally integrate information from several sources. If students pay full attention to text, they may miss information presented on an illustration or on an animation. Likewise, if they pay full attention to the animation, they may miss some textual information. Study results suggest that reducing or eliminating the split-attention effect improves student comprehension.13,7-19
DUAL CODING THEORY AND CONTIGUITY EFFECT
Dual-coding theory proposes that people have two separate pathways or systems in working memory to process information.20,21 One system processes verbal information, and the other processes visual information. If both of these systems are used to learn information, then the information may be more likely to be remembered and recalled. This theory has been modified to describe how visual and verbal information might be integrated in working memory.22 Here the learner builds a verbal representation in working memory from the verbal material; likewise, a visual representation is built in working memory derived from visually presented material. Then a connection, called a referential connection, between the two representations is created in the brain. Being able to connect the two types of information received is hypothesized to improve student problem solving.
This problem-solving transfer has been noted in research when text and visuals are presented concurrently rather than individually or isolated from one another. …