Multimedia Presentations

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Many schools encourage the use of technology in the classroom in an attempt to keep it from becoming outdated and boring. More importantly, as the technology at the hands of learners changes, so must the way they learn. A great example of this is the use of multimedia, more specifically presentations tools like powerpoint, in conjunction with lecture. That being said, much research has looked at how to properly employ the use of powerpoint. Here is a list of what the latest research tells us:

-Be wary of redundancy. Research by Jamet and Le Bohec in 2006 showed a negative effect on several forms of information recall for students presented with powerpoint presentations that directly mirrored the instructor's lecture.

-Concise is better. Research in 2003 by Bartsch and Cohern showed that elaborate powerpoint features such as unrelated images, sounds and extraneous information impaired student learning.

-Draw your own graphs. Research in 2003 by Stern, Aprea and Ebner showed that groups presented with a graph that was ‘actively illustrated’ performed better in recall tasks than groups passively presented with the same graph.

Click here to access Starting Point: Teaching and Learning Economics, a website with additional information on effectively employing multimedia learning in the economics classroom.

"9 Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning" (Mayer & Moreno, 2003)

This paper by Mayer and Moreno addresses the problems inherent of using multimedia when teaching. The author propose a theory of multimedia learning based on 3 assumptions: the dual-channel assumption, the limited-capacity assumption, and the active-processing assumption. The dual-channel assumption asserts that humans process verbal and visual in separate systems. The limited-capacity assumption asserts that a limit exists as to the amount of information each system can process at any given time. The active-processing assumption asserts that meaningful learning represents necessitates higher cognitive processes such as building connections between verbal and visual representations of information. Based on these assumptions, the authors put forth the idea of Cognitive Overload which occurs when a learner's cognitive capacity is exceeded by the amount of cognitive processing desired by the learner. Having identified the problem of Cognitive Overload and the assumptions made, the authors proceed to propose several ways of alleviating it. These ideas/theories are as follows:

Main Tips/Methods to Incorporate in the Economics Classroom:

1. Students show better comprehension of concepts presented as diagrams/animations when they are presented with narration rather than text, known as the Modality Effect. This means when presenting graphs, like a demand curve, it is more effective to present the graph and give an explanation of it rather than present the graph with a written explanation. Presenting both a graph and written text overloads the visual learning system while failing to employ the auditory one. A graph presented with a verbal explanations employs both the visual and auditory systems, resulting in more effective transmission of information.

2. Students show better comprehension of multimedia explanations when it is presented in paced, student-controlled segments rather than a continuous presentation, known as the Segmentation Effect. This way, the student can make sure they understand one concept before being presented with another, presumably more complex one. Since the comprehension of abstract concepts builds on basic ones, students must have a strong base in order to properly comprehend higher ones. Asking students if they are ready to continue lecture once a unit is complete would be an example of this. Another example would be having a 'question session' after each main concept presented in lecture--this would provide student feedback and clarify any doubts they have.

3. Students show better understanding of a multimedia explanation when they are presented with background information (i.e. relevant jargon) prior to the lesson, known as the Pre-training Effect. By pre-training students, they waste less time attempting to understand logistical aspects of lecture and rather focus on the abstract concepts and ideas. Providing all students with a vocabulary sheet via email the night before lecture would be a great example of incorporating this. This way students enter lecture and are not distracted by attempts to understand economic jargon.

4. Students show better understanding of multimedia explanations when they lack extraneous information, sounds and images, known as the Coherence Effect. It is believed that unnecessary factors 'take up' cognitive processing away from necessary ones. The idea here is that students will be confused by the abundance of information and the need to sift through it to understand which concepts are relevant. Incorporating this idea in the economics classroom means prudence when creating powerpoint slides. One must must be careful to only include relevant information and not be swayed by the novelty of including elaborate explanations or unnecessary tangents.

5. In multimedia presentations that one cannot exclude extraneous information from, students show better understanding when educators signal which information is important (i.e. bolding important terms or underlining them), known as the Signaling Effect. An easy way to incorporate this concept would be providing students with a small outline which listed the main objectives of lecture. The use of bolding, underlining and the use of colors to indicate importance is another possible technique.

6. Whenever image-relevant text is used, student understanding is better when it is placed near the image it corresponds to, known as the Spatial Contiguity Effect. The assumption here is that students spend less time attempting to attach the image and the text and therefore have more cognitive capacity left over to understand more abstract concepts.

7. Comprehension is negatively affected when on-screen text mirrors lecture, known as the Redundancy Effect. For example, an explanation of diminishing marginal utility is given by a professor, but also concurrently presented in text on a powerpoint slide. It is believed that presenting the exact same information via the auditory and visual system results in cognitive overload. In order to avoid this, powerpoint presentations should be relevant to lecture but not be a word-by-word repetition.

8. When presented with mixtures of narration and multimedia (i.e. a verbal explanation and an animation) students show better understanding if both forms are presented simultaneously rather than successively, known as the Temporal Contiguity Effect. For example, instead of lecturing on the income effect and then showing an animation that also explains it, the explanation and the animation should be presented in a sequential, simultaneous manner. It is believed that by harnessing both the auditory and visual systems and providing complementary information through each system, the student will not suffer from cognitive overload and will therefore better comprehend the concept being taught.

9. The Spatial Ability Effect has to do with personalizing multimedia presentations for each student. It holds that students with high spatial ability benefit more from simultaneous presentation of narration, sound and images because they have a higher threshold for undergoing cognitive overload. Therefore they should be presented with more elaborate multimedia presentations.

For the original article, click here.


Bartsch & Cobern, 2003. "We investigated whether students liked and learned more from PowerPoint presentations than from overhead transparencies. Students were exposed to lectures supported by transparencies and two different types of PowerPoint presentations. At the end of the semester, students preferred PowerPoint presentations but this preference was not found on ratings taken immediately after the lectures. Students performed worse on quizzes when PowerPoint presentations included non-text items such as pictures and sound effects. A second study further examined these findings. In this study participants were shown PowerPoint slides that contained only text, contained text and a relevant picture, and contained text with a picture that was not relevant. Students performed worse on recall and recognition tasks and had greater dislike for slides with pictures that were not relevant. We conclude that PowerPoint can be beneficial, but material that is not pertinent to the presentation can be harmful to students' learning." Click here to see the study.

Jamet & Le Bohec, 2006. "The purpose of this study was to examine the redundancy effects obtained when spoken information was duplicated in writing during the learning of a multimedia document. Documents consisting of diagrams and spoken information on the development of memory models were presented to three groups of students. In the first group, no written text was presented. In the second, written sentences redundant with the spoken information were progressively presented on the screen while in the third group, these written sentences were presented together. The results show that whatever the type of text presentation (sequential or static), the duplication of information in the written mode led to a substantial impairment in subsequent retention and transfer tests as well as in a task in which the memorization of diagrams was evaluated. This last result supports the hypothesis that the visual channel is overloaded as the cognitive theory of multimedia learning suggests." Click here to see the study.


Multimedia should serve as a guide to lecture, not compete with the teacher. This means teachers have to be careful to not only keep student attention, but also make smart multimedia decisions to ensure every minute of lecture is transmitting information to the student in an efficient, engaging way.


Bartsch, R. "Effectiveness of PowerPoint Presentations in Lectures." Computers & Education 41.1 (2003): 77-86. Print.

Jamet, E., and O. Lebohec. "The Effect of Redundant Text in Multimedia Instruction." Contemporary Educational Psychology 32.4 (2007): 588-98. Print.

Mayer, Richard, and Roxana Moreno. "Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning." Educational Psychologist 38.1 (2003): 43-52. Print.

Stern, E. "Improving Cross-content Transfer in Text Processing by Means of Active Graphical Representation." Learning and Instruction 13.2 (2003): 191-203. Print.