top of page

Our brains are multimedia. All our teaching should be, too.

Updated: Apr 9

DB Roberts

Probably everyone’s experienced at some time ‘Death by PowerPoint’: a presentation that, rather than engaging your attention, makes you want to run away. Slides packed full of bullet points ‘organizing’ text that appears as a wall of words, and to add insult to injury, the speaker is often duplicating the text. PowerPoint has become a source of ridicule, with Google’s former Research Director, Peter Norvig, declaring it to be more dangerous that a loaded AK47, because it harms more people.

He isn’t alone: a distinguished Professor Emeritus famously declared that ‘power corrupts, and PowerPoint corrupts absolutely’. But behind the satire there’s a serious point: according to recent and ongoing Multimedia Learning (MML) scholarship, it's pedagogically problematic in at least two ways: we’re overloading lecture slides with text, and we’re not using images effectively, if at all. Most of us probably recognize the first issue, but the second is paramount.
Our students know this, however, whether consciously or subconsciously. They are the most visual generation ever. This generation of students expects imagery when they enter Higher Education. Marc Prensky calls them ‘digital natives’, representative of a visual turn enabled by digital photography and dissemination across the Internet. They are, but you don't have to have been born after a certain year to 'get' digitization. Tietje and Cresap argue that academia is ‘marketed overwhelmingly to… young adults [for whom] visual media dominate’ (2005), and that was nearly two decades ago.

But we’re still eccentrically text-centric, digitally dated and pedagogically primitive (in the sense that visual learning is an evolutionary process and we are not keeping up). We're missing out on the capacity of the cognitive visual architecture common to all sighted people. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology tells us about half our brains are given over to visual processing, and 70 years of research in cognitive psychology identifies specific, biologically-inherent channels we all possess that process audio-textual and visual material distinctly. We are all visual learners, from the moment we begin to see, and long before we learn to speak, read and write. It is a natural, biological construct to learn visually; text is a socially-constructed latecomer. It's really important to take this on board: it doesn't matter what we study, who we are, what language we speak or where we live. We are hard-wired to learn visually.

Multimedia Learning (MML) scholarship embraces this biological, pedagogic dynamic. MML is defined as ‘building mental representations from words and pictures’ (Mayer, 2014, p. 2). It revolves around the idea that ‘people can learn more deeply from words and pictures than from words alone’ (2014, p. 1). This MML research tells us to balance the flow, matching how we send to how our students' brains receive: images for eyes, words for ears. Below is a visual representation of this 'dual processing' concept. The left side of the road represents the audio-textual channel, leading to the brain. The right side of the road represent audio-visual data making its way to the brain. Once there, a more relevant delivery is easier for working memory to handle. This means cognitive load is better balanced and we are able to process the material better - and the result is increased engagement and learning.

It doesn’t mean doing away with text. It means not overloading ears and under-utilizing eyes. If we’re not talking to our students with words and images, we’re not talking to half their brains. The formula is simple, the intellectual context solid. Mayer’s work, underscored by decades of research into cognition and memory, is widely-recognized and published by, among others, Cambridge University Press. And beyond academia, others like Nancy Duarte, Garr Reynolds and Guy Kawasaki are are making leaps and bounds in improving audience engagement with image- and video-rich presentations.

This method has been tested scientifically and peer-review published, using longitudinal randomized control trials. The outcomes are worth noting. We're extending testing now to disaggregate engagement into its affective, behavioural and cognitive elements; the raw data appears below. Across the bottom are the statements we asked the students to consider as they viewed a short recorded online video with text, or text and images. The statements are extracted from the scholarship on engagement. The orange columns represent the reactions of students exposed to MML methods. The blue column represents those int he control group exposed only to text. The research methods have ethical and intellectual approval.

Students were between 40% and 60% more engaged when images were used in conjunction with non-redundant audio-textual material, than with slides with text only. Among students exposed to this method of presenting for a semester, the percentage of coursework ‘firsts’ rose by 33%. Dyslexic students surveyed, unanimously declared a preference for image-text slides over text-centric slides.

It’s clear that we use lecture slides in ways that haven’t kept pace with the world from which our students come. But we also use them in ways that are counter-pedagogical. The good news is that it’s easy to fix: reduce visible text, increase use of apposite images. It isn’t PowerPoint; it’s how we use it.
24 views0 comments


Mit 0 von 5 Sternen bewertet.
Noch keine Ratings

Rating hinzufügen
bottom of page