One of the rules of thumb in online content creation is “Don’t use only text in your course” simply because it is boring, but more importantly it does not enhance effective learning, and here is the science behind it. According to the Dual Code Theory, humans have two separate information processing channels for verbal and pictorial information. Verbal information includes on-screen text and narration. Pictorial information includes pictures and graphics. Presenting a piece of information in both channels helps learners construct connections between two forms of mental representations: verbal and non-verbal. Therefore, it is easier to learn and then recall a particular concept when explained with both text and images. When you present the information via only verbal channel, there is a lower chance that your students retain it.

Thanks to online tools available now, it is easier to integrate different types of media like images, audio, video, animation, and graphics into online courses to make them more engaging and motivating. Most of the time we create our own multimedia material such as videos produced via screen recording tools. In such cases, it gets even more important to be aware of some multimedia principles that would help us design effective content. Although putting some text, images and audio together looks straightforward, some principles need to be taken into consideration. A large amount of research suggests that multimedia elements should be combined carefully not to cause cognitive load because our cognitive capacity for processing information is in fact quite limited. Therefore, we cannot just put some random visuals, audio, and text together expecting that they would guarantee deep learning. Now here is a quick guide for creating multimedia material in online learning without causing extraneous cognitive load (Mayer, 2009).

  1. Coherence Principle
    Any kind of visuals, audio elements, or text not directly related to the content should be excluded from the presentation. Therefore, any distractive and seductive details should be removed from the online content. It also needs to be kept in mind that less is more.
  2. Signaling Principle 
    It refers to the cues that you provide to highlight the important elements in your presentation. This is especially helpful when there is a lot of information to be absorbed in your content. Using visual and vocal signaling techniques such as headings, separating items and vocal emphasis on key words help your learners direct their attention to the important elements.
  3. Redundancy Principle
    This principle suggests that it is better to use graphics and audio narration instead of graphics, audio narration, and on-screen text. When you present narration and on-screen text at the same time, cognitive load is caused because learners need to work harder to process all the verbal information coming from both narration and on-screen text.
  4. Spatial Contiguity
    This refers to the spatial alignment of words and picture. Essential words need to be placed next to corresponding graphics. This helps guide your learners’ cognitive processing.
  5. Temporal Contiguity
    This is helpful when you have an animation, picture, or graphic, and a narration that goes with them. Presenting the visual and auditory information simultaneously rather than successively makes it easier for learners to make the connection between the visual and auditory input.

Meaningful learning occurs when learners’ essential cognitive processing is used carefully. As humans’ cognitive resources are limited, Instructional Designers and content creators should design multimedia content in ways that minimize unnecessary cognitive load, and Mayer’s set of principles are a great guide to achieving this.


  • Mayer, R. (2009). Multimedia Learning. New York: Cambridge University Press

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