Designing for Learning


Richard E. Mayer is an educational psychologist who researches and develops principles that help educators apply the science of learning to the creation of multimedia elements. These principles largely focus on ways we can help our students manage cognitive load as they engage with our materials.

Cognitive load is the amount of mental effort used in working memory. As students work to learn new information, we can help them manage cognitive load by adhering to Richard Mayer's multimedia learning principles when we create our video content.

This page describes seven of Mayer's principles and some ways we can use this information to inform the creation of video that is designed for learning.

Principles of Multimedia Learning

Coherence Principle: delete extraneous material

How to use it:

  • avoid uninformative clip art/decorative items, or unnecessary visual elements

  • clear the computer desktop of clutter; close all unused applications

  • tidy up the recording environment 

  • record in a quiet environment during a time when there will be no interruptions

Signaling Principle: highlight essential material

How to use it:

  • use headings, highlighting, pointer words, arrows, vocal emphasis, or spotlighting

  • begin videos by communicating the learning objective and a preview of the key concepts/overview of the video

  • use consistent organization

  • bring focus on the most essential information

Redundancy Principle: focus on two channels for delivery

(e.g. graphics and narration are better than graphics, text, and narration)

How to use it:

  • use graphics and narration but do not add on-screen text that repeats the narration

  • display key terms/phrases

  • do not read blocks of text

  • avoid split attention (do not visually present and narrate text simultaneously)

How to use it:​

  • keep videos brief and focused on one objective

  • chunk content into digestible amounts of information

  • index videos so they are easily navigable

Segmenting Principle: break lessons into learner-paced parts

Temporal Principle: present spoken word at the same time as corresponding graphics

How to use it:

  • keep narration and animation simultaneous

  • avoid narrating an animation before the action occurs

  • consider also the spatial contiguity principle which indicates that non-redundant text and pictures should appear in close proximity so the relationship between the text and image is evident to the learner

Personalization Principle: use conversational language

How to use it:

  • work from an outline or script

  • write for the ear and speak conversationally (including at a conversational pace)

  • do not be concerned with the occasional audible pause

  • consider also the concept of embodiment in talking head videos whereby the onscreen presenter uses natural gestures, movements, eye contact, facial expressions, and eye contact with the camera

How to use it:

  • use your own natural conversational voice

  • some tools offer robotic voice settings, avoid these


Designing Visual Elements

It is a good idea to employ the principles of multimedia learning when you design and create video content. It is also a good idea to use these principles when you design the visuals that you will incorporate into the videos you create. This means that the PowerPoint presentations that are packaged with most textbooks do not adhere to best practices and should not be used (these slide decks are notorious for their ineffective design and usually are not truly designed for learning).


If you know you are going to use a slide presentation as the canvas for the visual elements in your video, take the time to design it well. Before you build another slide presentation (for any reason) reference Mayer’s principles of multimedia learning as well as one of the several published resources written on this topic (such as Slide:ology or Presentation Zen).


You will also find that there are many great educational videos available that focus on the topic of the effectiveness of our use of PowerPoint. Check out a couple of our favorites below.

David JP Phillip's TED Talk entitled How to Avoid Death by PowerPoint is a case study in effective PowerPoint design. This talk focuses on cognitive load and the ways we mentally tax our learners by inundating them with information.

Jennifer Gonzalez’s website The Cult of Pedagogy is a comprehensive resource for educators at every level. In her video How Presentation Zen Fixed My Bad PowerPoints, Gonzalez reflects on the book Presentation Zen and provides a visual demonstration of the ways in which this text has transformed her use of PowerPoint. 

If you are looking for a free quick and dirty guide to basic visual design, we really enjoy Daniel Higgenbotham's website Clean Up Your Mess.



Clark, R. C., Mayer, R. E. (2011) e-Learning and the science of instruction; Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning (3). Hoboken, US: Pfeiffer.


Mayer, R. E. (2012). Multimedia learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Mayer, R. E. (2014). The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning. (2nd ed). New York: University of Cambridge.

Voice Principle: use your natural voice rather than an automated voice