Multimedia learning: Cognitive individual differences and display design techniques predict transfer learning with multimedia learning modules



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Psychologists and engineers continue to debate the efficacy of technology interfaces and merit of information display approaches. In the wake of the information explosion and rapidly progressing technology, Mayer (2001) formulated a theory that focused on human cognition, rather than technology capacity and features. Mayer and colleagues have developed a simple model, the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning, suggesting that certain combinations of multimedia optimize learning, in terms of retention and transfer. The present dissertation suggests that the conclusions are premature and a much more complex set of individual differences and display design principles must be evaluated. Further, the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning is vulnerable in terms of its simplistic view of information processing and working memory. For instance, when previous research tested individual difference attributes, such as spatial ability and prior knowledge, performance was evaluated only in the animation and narration condition, representing one of his three initial experimental conditions (Mayer, 2001). The present research offers a rigorous comparative analysis of the multimedia conditions. In addition, variables such as working memory, multimedia comprehension skill, and fluid intelligence are measured and isolated, so that the multimedia combination effect on transfer learning can be evaluated beyond these cognitive abilities. By measuring the effect of cognitive individual differences and display design manipulations on transfer test performance, the current research offers a broader approach to testing the impact of multimedia combinations on transfer test performance. The present research concludes that while cognitive primitives contribute to learning transfer in a multimedia lesson, display design manipulations involving text location and the absence of motion remove the effects reported in previous research. Ultimately, there is no “magic bullet” combination of multimedia (animation and narration). Rather, key design principles coupled with the influence of cognitive individual differences must be investigated further before prescriptive guidelines for educational multimedia can be proffered. Likewise, the predictive validity of cognitive primitives, such as fluid intelligence, may redirect interest back to fundamental individual differences, as indicators of learning differences with or without the effect of technology.