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Multimedia effects on learning: Design implications of an integrated model

Toby Hede
Swinburne University of Technology, Victoria
Andy Hede
University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland
The integrated model highlights the multiple factors that have to be accounted for in explaining multimedia effects on learning. The model has implications for designers who need to be aware of at least 12 factors and their complex interactions in learner reaction to multimedia. This paper reviews the design implications of visual and auditory inputs, learner control, learner style, learner dynamics and cognitive processing. A set of guidelines for multimedia designers is proposed.

Research over the past two decades has produced inconsistent results about the effects of multimedia on learning (Liao, 1999). These inconsistencies are most likely due to the fact that there are multiple factors operating as has been proposed in the integrated model of multimedia effects (Hede, 2002). The full model comprising 12 inter-related conceptual elements (most containing sub-elements) is clearly very complex (see Figure 1) and this complexity has clear implications for the design of multimedia in education. Designers need to be aware of the relationships among the many elements of the integrated model if their multimedia products are to be fully effective as learning tools. This paper reviews the major design implications of the model.

Visual and auditory input

Multimedia typically involves the simultaneous use of multiple media formats, but it is arguable that more effective education can be achieved through a more serialised presentation of information. Traditionally the major focus of multimedia design has been on the 'multi', resulting in information being presented in a variety of formats. As can be seen in the integrated model, there are direct information flows between Visual and Auditory Input and Attention (see Figure 1), which serves to highlight the impact that visual and auditory stimuli have on the attention of the learner. It has been found that learners have to divide their attention across multiple inputs when presented with instruction in both auditory and visual modes (Mousavi et al., 1995). This 'split-attention' effect can result in reduced processing. It follows that taking some of the 'multi' out of multimedia can be of assistance in providing more effective learning outcomes. Allowing learners to focus attention on one single media resource at a time can offer advantages over providing many simultaneous channels of information. Where more complex delivery is offered, it is crucial for designers to provide some functionality to allow learner control of the input.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Integrated model of multimedia effects on learning

Learner control

The factor of learner control plays a key role in the effectiveness of multimedia (see Figure 1). As software, multimedia inherits all of the design concerns of human-computer interaction. In designing effective instructional software, it is important to distinguish between several aspects of the software in question. A distinction should be made between functional interaction and learning interaction. Functional interaction encompasses learner-controlled software functionality which includes such functions as volume control, audio and video queuing, search tools, navigation, and configuration parameters. Learning interaction, on the other hand, is interaction provided for specific learning outcomes. An example of this would be simulation-based exercises or even simple interactive animations and diagrams.

Customisable interfaces provide a high level of learner control, but it is worth noting that there is some evidence that complex learner control functions can be counter-productive in terms of educational outcomes (McNeil & Nelson, 1991). Ideally, therefore, it should not be necessary for learners to learn the software in order to learn the target material. It is important to standardise software interface design as much as possible. Creating interfaces that conform to user expectations can reduce the overhead and learning demand of the software itself and allow learner focus on the material being presented. Usability patterns can provide the necessary tools for making low-level interaction design decisions. A number of usability pattern catalogues and languages are being developed and several can be found on the Internet.

Learner style

Particularly in the relatively more simple areas of content delivery, allowances for varied learning styles can be quite easily integrated into the instructional design. In the integrated model Learner Style has links with the construct of Learner Control (see Figure 1), and it is therefore important to provide control mechanisms that support the targeted styles of learning. The features of learner control in multimedia should be designed to accommodate the different abilities and styles of learners (Stemler, 1997). The beauty of the software medium is that information can be deconstructed into any number of configurations and presentations. However, with this flexibility comes further complexity that needs to be addressed to effectively support learners. It can be useful to think of the interface as providing a particular 'view' of the content being presented, and indeed, multiple views of information can be provided rather than assuming a single information structure. This capacity allows for distinct styles of learning to be catered for, with separate views being provided of the same information.

Linear presentation is useful, particularly for providing specific learning paths, but mechanisms such as searching and indices can provide especially effective alternatives for learners. However, it becomes crucial to provide context for learners who bypass the linear order - even simple links and headings can convey important contextual information. For example, in learning about animals, learners could examine the content on a geographic basis by looking at animals in Africa and the Americas, but when learning about reptiles the information could be provided in a completely different context. Similarly, the utilisation of a variety of media types (within the previously mentioned parameters for visual and auditory input) permits information to be presented in ways that allow learners to focus on materials that support their particular style of learning. If this approach is coupled with effective control mechanisms to permit learners to easily adjust the presentation, then simple yet powerful delivery can be achieved.

Learner dynamics

A conceptual distinction can be made between content delivery and content exploration. Presentation of educational materials, in the form of textual course notes and other supporting media can be described as content delivery. In delivery-based models, learners progress through the course materials, much as in a traditional distance education program. Content exploration, by contrast, is the presentation of materials in a more interactive fashion; simulations, games and other complex environments can be thought of as nearly entirely exploratory in nature. The integrated model includes the constructs of Motivation and Cognitive Engagement (see Figure 1); taking more exploratory approaches to multimedia can greatly increase both these factors in instruction. Games and simulations can provide goal-based challenges that stimulate user motivation and interest in the material being presented. Providing tools for annotation and collation of notes can also be effective in stimulating learner engagement. Landow notes that in hypertext systems, learners are more actively engaged when they participate in the annotation and collation of materials (Landow, 1998). More engaging instruction may benefit from leveraging this principle through the use of tools. However, it must be noted that the further complexities demanded by creating more interactive systems must be counterbalanced in design by an awareness of the factors of learner style and learner control, in particular. Passive learning styles may not be advantaged by simulation-based multimedia and more complex control mechanisms may actually obfuscate the instruction.

Audience factors

It may seem self-evident, but an awareness of the target audience of a multimedia package is probably the prime consideration in designing effective instruction. The integrated model reveals the ultimate dependence of learning effectiveness on innate learner qualities and capabilities. The linchpin of the integrated model is Working Memory or Processing, which has a total of 8 links to other constructs within the model (see Figure 1). Working memory has been shown in a number of studies to be a crucial factor of learning with educational multimedia (Niaz & Logie, 1993; Mayer et al., 1996; Mousavi et al., 1995). In designing instructional media, an awareness of the Working Memory construct can assist in ensuring that cognitive overload and dual-coding effects are avoided. Levels of existing learner expertise, computer-familiarity and several other factors all contribute to the overall effectiveness of educational multimedia. Instructional designers can have little control over the innate abilities of learners, but an awareness of their abilities and a detailed understanding of the characteristics of the targeted learners can provide a foundation for sound instructional design.


In conclusion, the integrated model provides a 'road map' of the issues faced by instructional designers in the development of effective multimedia materials. The model suggests the following design guidelines: 1) create interfaces that conform to software standards and patterns; 2) create simple navigation with several modes of access; 3) provide multiple 'views' of information rather than static paths; 4) simplify simultaneous media presentation; 5) provide interface controls for media presentation. No single piece of software can hope to meet all the demands of the integrated model, but by taking into consideration the interplay and exchange of forces, more effective multimedia instruction can be designed and developed.


Hede, A. (2002). An integrated model of multimedia effects on learning. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, (in press).

Landow, G.P. (1998). Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Liao, Y. (1999). Effects of hypermedia on students' achievement: A meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 8(3), 255-277.

Mayer, R.E., Bove, W., Bryman, A., Mars, R., & Tapangco, L. (1996). When less is more: Meaningful learning from visual and verbal summaries of science textbook lessons. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88(1), 64-73.

McNeil, B.J., & Nelson, K.R. (1991). Meta-analysis of interactive video instruction: A 10-year review of achievement effects. Journal of Computer-Based Instruction, 18(1), 1-6.

Mousavi, S.Y., Low, R., & Sweller, J. (1995). Reducing cognitive load by mixing auditory and visual presentation modes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 87(2), 319-334.

Niaz, M., & Logie, R.H. (1993). Working memory, mental capacity and science education: Towards an understanding of the 'working memory overload hypothesis'. Oxford Review of Education, 19(4), 511-525.

Stemler, L.K. (1997). Educational characteristics of multimedia: A literature review. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 6(3/4), 339-359.

Please cite as: Hede, T. and Hede, A. (2002). Multimedia effects on learning: Design implications of an integrated model. In S. McNamara and E. Stacey (Eds), Untangling the Web: Establishing Learning Links. Proceedings ASET Conference 2002. Melbourne, 7-10 July.

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