Designing Materials & Media

On this page you’ll find the following information: 



Multimedia presentations that represent material in both words and pictures encourage learners to make connections between the graphic and spoken representations of the information, making the experience more meaningful and more likely to be committed to long-term memory.  

By contrast, providing words alone may encourage learners – especially those with less expertise – to engage in shallow learning by not making connections with other knowledge. 

There is more to instruction than simply presenting information, and page after page of text is rarely sufficient as this video demonstrates:

(source: Wisc-Online –

The rationale for combining text with graphics is that “people are more likely to understand material when they can engage in active learning” (Clark & Mayer, 2016, p. 71). However, designing multimedia materials should be done intentionally, considering cognitive theories of learning design, learner variation, and accessibility needs. 

Material and Media Design Principles

If you are designing a video, animation, textbook, eBook, PowerPoint presentation, or online lesson, applying these multimedia and accessibility principles will improve the learning experience.  

These principles are derived from the cognitive theory work of Richard Mayer, and guide the design and organization of multimedia materials for efficient learning: 

    • Graphics – People learn better when… 
      • Graphics and words are combined, rather than presenting words alone, with some exceptions: 
        • Graphics are not an afterthought: they should be planned alongside the text to maximize understanding. 
        • Decorative graphics do not improve learning and should be excluded.
        • A combination of words and graphics are particularly useful and important for novices, though less useful for expert learners. 
          • More experienced learners make use of relevant schemas that they have formed in order to comprehend. If teaching a more advanced group of learners who are experienced in the topic, they may be able to learn well mainly from text, or mainly from graphics. 
        • Clark & Mayer (2016) suggest that there are six possible functions of graphics/video to consider when designing learning materials: 

Graphic type 


Decorative  Visuals added for aesthetic appeal or humor. 
Representational  Visuals that illustrate the appearance of an object. E.g. screenshot
Organizational  Visuals that show qualitative relationships among content. E.g. tables, mindmaps, flowcharts
Relational  Visuals that summarize quantitative relationships. E.g. maps, pie or graph charts
Transformational  Visuals that illustrate changes in time or over space. E.g. videos, animations
Interpretive  Visuals that make intangible phenomena visible and concrete. E.g. infographics, diagrams with arrows
        • Animated visuals are used to represent hands-on procedures. 
        • Static visuals are used to represent conceptual information is more effectively shared with static visuals. 
        • Corresponding words and pictures are presented near to each other rather than far from each other on the page or screen.  
          • For example, legends presented alongside charts, with labels linked to corresponding numbers on a diagram, break this principle, forcing the user to shift their attention back and forth from the graphic to the legend. 

   Image of skull with anatomical labels local to each area of the skull is better than Image of skull with offset anatomical numbered labels, located away from each area of the skull

    • Words – People learn better when…
      • You limit text to what is required to support the instructional objective and exclude extraneous words
      • Cues that highlight the organization of essential information are added. 
    • Audio and Narration – People learn better when…
      • Words are presented as narration rather than on-screen text. 
      • Dialogue is incorporated in video with images or demonstrations – especially for novice learners. 
      • Narration in multimedia lessons is spoken in a friendly human voice rather than a machine voice. 
      • When words are spoken in conversational style rather than formal style in a multimedia lesson.
    • General – People learn better when… 
      • You design for all types of learners up front, considering their accessibility requirements. Learn more about designing accessible material on the Accessibility Centre page or in the list of resources below.
      • You avoid adding material that does not support the instructional goal. 
      • A multimedia lesson is presented in learner-controlled segments rather than a continuous unit. 
      • They already know names and behaviors of system components presented in a multimedia lesson. 
      • Media related to text or image content is integrated and presented synchronously. 
      • Graphics and narration are paired than when graphics, narration and on-screen text are paired.  
      • Words are presented as narration rather than narration and on-screen text. 


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