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5 questions... for Richard E. Mayer

By Lisa Neal / July 2006

TYPE: INTERVIEW
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Professor Richard E. Mayer is known for his research-based approach to the use of multimedia in learning, which has resulted in more effective online courses.

Lisa Neal: Why do you believe so much educational technology is designed without an understanding of how people learn?

Richard E. Mayer: Sometimes instructional decisions are based on the experience of the designer. Although craft knowledge can make an important contribution to instruction, I think that educational psychology also has something to offer including a research-based theory of how people learn. For example, I have developed the cognitive theory of multimedia learning which is based on these ideas: (a) humans have separate information-processing channels for verbal and visual information, (b) people are able to process only a small amount of information in each channel at any one time, and (c) deep learning occurs when learners mentally select relevant incoming information, organize it into coherent structures, and integrate it with prior knowledge.

LN: It seems like an advantage to being online is that technology can personalize and tailor to students' learning styles. Do you know examples where this has been done and if so, with what success?

RM: Individualization can be a useful feature of computer-based instruction, especially when the instructional content and method are adjusted for the learner's knowledge. For example, specific errors can be targeted for remediation. In contrast, research on tailoring instruction to the student's learning style is somewhat disappointing. Although tailoring to learning styles may be a popular idea, research evidence supporting its efficacy is limited.

LN: Which factors, such as age, gender, learning style, and topic, have the most impact on design of online courses?

RM: The single most important individual-differences dimension is prior knowledge, i.e. the learner's domain-specific knowledge. If I were asked to design instruction for someone, the first thing I would want to know about the learner is what he or she already knows about the topic. Instructional techniques that are effective for beginners may be ineffective or even detrimental for more experienced learners, and vice versa. This idea is called the expertise reversal effect and is reviewed in the chapter by Kalyuga on the prior-knowledge principle in the Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning.

LN: Do you believe it is possible to guide the appropriate and effective selection of multimedia in online courses? For instance, are there instances where video is always going to be more effective than graphics or text?

RM: It makes more sense to focus on the appropriate instructional method rather than the instructional medium. The presentation medium-such as video or text-does not cause learning. The instructional method causes learning. Thus, the answer to the question about when to use video is that it should be used when it best supports the intended instructional method.

LN: Your research is motivated by asking "How can we help people learn in ways that allow them to use what they have learned to solve new problems that they have never seen before?" Have you come up with an answer?

RM: Based on dozens of experimental tests, I have developed ten research-based principles of multimedia design. Each principle has been shown to increase learners' performance on transfer tests--that is, on answering problem-solving questions that require using the presented material. These principles are summarized in my book Multimedia Learning, and in four chapters in The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning.



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ADDITIONAL READING

    Lisa Neal
  1. Q&A
  2. Storytelling at a distance
  3. Talk to me
  4. Q&A with Diana Laurillard
  5. Online learning and fun
  6. Everything in moderation
  7. eLearning and fun
  8. The basics of e-learning
  9. Is it live or is it Memorex?
  10. My life as a Wikipedian
  11. Five questions...for Elliott Masie
  12. Five Questions... for John Seely Brown
  13. Five questions...for Lynn Johnston
  14. Five questions…for Matt DuPlessie
  15. Do it yourself
  16. Predictions for 2004
  17. When will e-learning reach a tipping point?
  18. Q&A with Saul Carliner
  19. "Deep" thoughts
  20. "Spot Learning"
  21. The stripper and the bogus online degree
  22. Five questions...for Tom Carey
  23. Learner on the Orient Express
  24. Five (or six) questions...for Irene McAra-McWilliam
  25. How to get students to show up and learn
  26. Blended conferences
  27. Predictions for 2002
  28. Learning from e-learning
  29. Q&A with Don Norman
  30. In search of simplicity
  31. Five Questions...for Christopher Dede
  32. Want better courses?
  33. Designing usable, self-paced e-learning courses
  34. Just "DO IT"
  35. Senior service
  36. Formative evaluation
  37. Blogging to learn and learning to blog
  38. Predictions for 2007
  39. Not all the world's a stage
  40. Five questions...for Seb Schmoller
  41. Do distance and location matter in e-learning?
  42. Why do our K-12 schools remain technology-free?
  43. Degrees by mail
  44. The Value of Voice
  45. Predictions for 2006
  46. Five questions...for Shigeru Miyagawi
  47. Five questions...
  48. Five questions...for Larry Prusack
  49. Five questions...for Karl M. Kapp
  50. Music lessons
  51. Learn to apologize for fun and profit
  52. Advertising or education?
  53. Of web hits and Britney Spears
  54. Predictions for 2008
  55. Serious games for serious topics
  56. Back to the future
  57. Predictions For 2003