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