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Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (CTML)

Updated: May 16, 2023

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CTML is a theory which is major developed by Richard E. Mayer. The theoretical foundation of CTML draws from several cognitive theories including Baddeley’s Model of Working Memory, Paivio’s Theory of Dual Coding, and Sweller’s Cognitive Load Theory. The CTML focused on discussing meaningful connections that learners trying to build between words and pictures and how they learned deeper compared with learning with words or pictures alone.


Three assumptions of CTML:

1. Dual channels: Mayer believed that learners’ working memory has visual and auditory channels; they select ad process information through verbal and visual learning memory.

2. Limited capacity: The limited capacity assumption is based on Sweller’s cognitive load theory: each subsystem of working memory has limited capacity.

3. Active processing: The third assumption of active processing suggests that people construct knowledge in meaningful ways by selecting (paying attention to relevant materials), organizing (mentally organizing selected information into a coherent structure in working memory), and integrating both verbal and visual information (connecting that information with prior knowledge activated from long-term memory).


Twelves Design Principles:

Mayer (2009) also provided instructional designers with twelves design principles of multimedia learning to balance learners’ visual and verbal channels and reduce their cognitive load:

Principles that enhance germane load

1. Multimedia Principle: The multimedia principle implied that a multimedia package that contains more than one modality (e.g. text, video, graphics, animation, narration) will be more effective for learners than just presenting words and information.

2. Personalization Principle: it means students learn better from a more conversational voice rather than formal-style conversations. Try to make sure your words are simple and casual.

3. Voice Principle: it states that students are more likely to engage in the learning process when the audio voice is generated by humans rather than computers.

4. Image Principle: it refers to showing meaningful images on the screen leading to more meaningful learning than just showing a “talking head” of the instructor.

Principles that reduce extraneous load

5. Spatial Contiguity Principle: it suggests that multimedia packages are better designed for learners when texts and images are physically placed close together.

6. Temporal Continuity Principle: it implies that the extraneous load will be reduced by synchronizing corresponding verbal and pictorial instead of in consecutive order.

7. Coherence Principle: it suggests that learners learn more effectively when multimedia pieces are presented without irrelevant elements.

8. Redundancy Principle: it refers to students learning deeper from the information presented by graphics and narration instead of the combination of graphics, narration, and text.

9. Signaling Principle: it helps when we cannot eliminate extraneous information. Signals such as callouts, arrows, relational cues, or highlighted elements attracted learners’ attention and help them deal with extraneous information that cannot be eliminated.

Principles that manage intrinsic load

10. Modality Principle: it means that compared with graphics and text, the combination of both graphics and narration is more effective to be presented on multimedia projects.

11. Segmenting Principle: it focused on stating the importance of self-paced learning. Segmenting helps address the intrinsic load of materials and provides learners with enough time to generate a mental representation of each section before moving to the next section.

12. Pre-training principle: it refers that the instructional multimedia will be more effective when we provide learners with pre-training for what they will learn, including key concepts, titles, objectives, etc.

As instructional designers, it is important to take those principles into consideration before starting to develop a course facilitated by interactive multimedia.


Videos: What is the CTML?

Here are two introductory videos for your reference:

If you have any questions about this article, please feel free to email me:

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