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