Multimedia learning is knowledge gained through use of words and pictures, and particularly through modern technology such as video and computers.
For many baby boomers, multimedia referred to seeing a film in class that might have depicted a story or theme similar to the recent class lesson from the teacher. In business, multimedia really began to take shape with slide shows and video presentations at the end of the twentieth century. As computers became more advanced and more common in workplaces and homes, new opportunities for multimedia learning arose in the form of audio, video, gaming, online education, simulations, and augmented reality. In short, the term “multimedia” has become more difficult to define as instructors and those who design learning programs now have access to better hardware, software, animation, graphics, and video than ever before.
The reason that instructors use multimedia is that it can help engage a learner. In some cases, such as with video games, multimedia can even put the learner in control. Studies tend to show that when learning is interactive and users have some, but not too much, control over how learning takes place, learners have more success and can better apply what they've learned in real situations.
By adding pictures, and especially interactive media to text, learning is improved for several reasons. Simple graphics show people how things work instead of describing concepts in words. Many people are visual learners. Hearing a word is abstract, but seeing a picture with the word improves memory of the word. Others learn by doing, and use of computer simulation is the perfect opportunity for learners to try tasks almost as if performing them in the real world. Multimedia learning supports learning of concepts, performing procedures, and using strategies. It also can help support learner's beliefs, or their thoughts about their own learning. In particular, the controlled learning from multimedia helps learners hold knowledge in their working memory. The working memory is information that learners can later access and act on when confronted with a situation before them. This makes the learning more relevant.
Multimedia can be used for augmented learning, which is learning that is adapted to the learner and occurs on demand. Augmented learning is made possible by advanced technology such as Web 2.0, which enables easier creation, sharing, and distribution of digital information. Some well-known examples of digital applications that have been made possible by Web 2.0 include Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Other technologies include augmented reality, also called virtual reality, which simulates real-world context by overlapping digital content. Augmented reality allows for human-computer interaction. Many young people already are familiar with the concept through advanced simulation gaming, and augmented reality has been used heavily in training for professions such as military personnel, astronauts, and medical professionals. Studies of augmented reality use in learning tasks have showed that people learning to assemble objects for the first time who learned using augmented reality had a much faster learning curve when performing actual assembly than did learners who used a manual to learn.
Psychologists, parents, educators, and others who plan and design instructional materials are beginning to understand the capabilities and effects of digital multimedia tools on formal and informal learning. For example, young people spend more and more time online on social media and psychologists are studying the behavioral and learning implications. Parents are learning how to incorporate their children's time spent online or playing computer games so that the digital time more closely supports formal education instead of conflicting with it. Adults also are using multimedia more than ever. In addition to formal work training or adult education, many adults might choose to watch a video showing them how to perform a home repair rather than read step-by-step instructions.
Adoption of multimedia learning has been slow in some formal education because of costs. But as the Internet, computers, and software enabling easy design of multimedia instruction have improved and become more common, the use of digital media in particular has risen in recent years. Simply putting a lesson into multimedia does not necessarily make it a better or more effective learning vehicle, however, as evidenced in the early days of slide shows for schools and businesses. The most effective multimedia tools personalize the learning experience, and are based on sound and proven education methods.
See also Learning ; Learning: e-learning and augmented learning ; Learning: formal and informal .
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