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Teaching with Multimedia

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Lois Warner
January 27, 2017


Over the past 50 years, there has been a transition from primarily print media to combinations of print and electronic media for transferring educational material to the public. Researchers and practitioners in public administration and other fields attest to the transformational use of electronic media in teaching and learning processes. All aspects of instruction now incorporate multimedia, for example, facilitating conferences face-to-face or via the Internet, in class lecture presentations, course literature (e-books and electronic journals), and online course delivery. These developments have, primarily, contributed to making education more accessible. What is also phenomenal about multimedia development is the multiplicity of channels invented for disseminating information and for building knowledge. These comprise Internet databases that are free and open to the public, as well as those available by subscription to faculty and students in higher education institutions.

The use of computers to facilitate teaching and learning has expanded from basic text formats requiring reading, to modalities that include still images, animation, audio (including podcasts), video and enabled interaction. These incorporate narration, music, color, action and simulation. Some text, when selected, links to windows with scenes of the other side of the world, captured in video. In addition, there are sophisticated software programs for facilitating calculus and statistical analysis, with vibrant illustrations that support better understanding. Studies have shown that certain combinations of media lend to the creation of superior teaching and learning methodologies. There is substantial research on the use of multimedia for both teaching and learning. Based on a review of research conducted (1993-2012) several studies document enhanced teaching through the use of multimedia.

Studies on the Use of Multimedia for Course Delivery

multimediaSome noteworthy research findings indicate readers cannot fully understand and appreciate certain concepts without being able to look at and examine visual presentations. J. M Greenberg shares this observation in an article entitled “Integrated Multimedia in Distance Learning,” included in the 1994 Proceedings of ED-MEDIA 94 World Conference on Educational Media and Hypermedia. Sara Ibrahim Aloraini in a 2005 Journal of King Saud University article entitled Distance Learningstates that multimedia is considered one of the best educational technologies because it addresses more than one sense simultaneously, as it addresses the senses of sight and hearing. Euline Cutrim Schmid similarly finds that the interaction between sounds, the written words and images of objects presented, enhances memorization.

Several of the studies reviewed note some measure of enhanced memory, understanding and interpretation. An additional advantage identified for teaching with multimedia is the uniformity possible for course delivery, for example through narrated presentations, which are especially useful for online courses. The most frequently used data collection methods for this type of research are experimental models.

Educational psychologist, Distinguished Professor Richard E, Mayer, University of California, Santa Barbara has been studying this phenomenon for over two decades. His research is among the most prolific on the topic. He provides a set of principles for designing multimedia instruction here and here.

Mayer’s research addresses the problem of extraneous processing. This is cognitive processing of instructional material that does not actually afford any learning. The term used for this is “background noise.” It comprises irrelevant material that has been included in the lesson, but does nothing to enhance students’ learning experience. Mayer presents five principles specifically for reducing extraneous processing. Extraneous processing can frequently occur in multimedia instruction if attention is not given to these principles.

  1. Coherence principle: People learn better when extraneous words, pictures and sounds are excluded rather than included.
  2. Signaling principle: People learn better when cues that highlight the organization of essential material is added.
  3. Redundancy principle: People learn better from graphics and narration than from graphics and onscreen texts.
  4. Spatial contiguity principle: People learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near rather than far from each other on the page or screen.
  5. Temporal contiguity principle: People learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively.


Multimedia is easily accessible and convenient for course design and delivery. Many who have used it in the classroom, face-to-face and online, have found its use to be advantageous as both a teaching and learning tool. It is also beneficial for effective course management and for developing course materials.  What is important to note is that educational impact depends on how these media are used for transferring specific types of educational material. Mayer presents some valuable insights in his principles for designing multimedia instruction that guide educators away from possibly misusing these tools. The materials discussed here reveal some of the questions that have been asked by researchers as multimedia evolved overtime, and some of the methods used to evaluate it as a medium for education purposes. How well multimedia works for teaching public administration is an important research question that needs further investigation.

Author: Lois Warner ([email protected]) is an Assistant Teaching Professor at the School for Public Affairs and Administration, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. She is also the Teaching Resources Coordinator and Assistant Director of the Virtual Museum of Public Service (vmps.us), and serves as a Member at Large on the ASPA Section for Public Administration Education Executive Board. 


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