Week 2: Theories of Educational Media (Winter 2023 Webster)


Theory can be a dense subject for anyone who is typically concerned with practice. Connecting theory to practice can be frustrating, with only partial success realized at any one point in your career. There are two points to be made about learning and reflecting on theory in education. Even if the application of theory to your teaching practice is an iterative process with mixed results, the effort made in applying theory makes you more reflective in your teaching practice. This means that you will question things that go wrong and that go right. Secondly, if you approach teaching without theory, that is to say you don’t consciously consider the learning theories you use in your teaching, your teaching is still based in theory. It’s just not any theory that you have chosen. Ignoring how your teaching practices are grounded in theory means that they reflect the theory of your curriculum designer, institutional leadership, textbook and resource authors, and educational technology designers. Making conscious choices about how your teaching is grounded in theory gives you independence.

Media use in teaching and learning is a subset of learning theory that enjoys significant research because it is largely grounded in cognitive science. The works produced by Richard Mayer, along with work he has created and collaborated on, provides a significant number of guiding principles to use in the later weeks of this course. There may be additional research or readings to support best practices.

The second topic this week will also apply to concepts that come later in the course. Creating media for learning is often about finding an open resource that nearly meets your needs, and then modifying it from there. This is a world you will need to navigate in order to generate effective media. The resources you find here will be essential tools in many of the lessons coming up.

Learning Outcomes

When you have completed this week you should be able to:

  • Discuss educational theories in their application to media.
  • Source appropriately licensed media for reuse and remix.

Topic 1: Educational Theories and Media

This topic briefly introduces educational media’s relationship to key learning theories, and we then explore Richard Mayer’s Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning.

An Introduction to Learning Theories and Educational Media

This short introduction places common learning theories in their relationship to educational media. If you are new to learning theory, you might want to read Three Generations of Distance Education Pedagogy, which is an optional reading on learning theory (Anderson & Dron, 2011).

Few theories of learning address media, but almost all of them leave room for media to be effective within them. For each theory, media can start out as a form of communication and a way for the teacher (either as creator or curator) to convey meaning to the student. But media can also be the mode by which learners demonstrate their learning or construct their own knowledge.

Behaviourism approaches learning as incentives and disincentives motivating learners towards desired outcomes. Media is just another mode for communicating content to learners. If the desired learner behaviour can be more efficiently provoked with an image or an audio track, then that is what should be used. If the desired learner behaviour is to create a video, then that’s as far as it goes.

Cognitivism argues that learning must be understood as following a pattern of processes within the mind. Understanding these processes helps us better design learning. Cognitivism lays the groundwork for most of the research looking into how media effectively supports learning. Research into cognitive load, dual processing theory, and other concepts form the basis for the theory you will read about this week.

The premise of constructivism is that learners create their own knowledge as they interact with content, instructors, and each other. Constructivist lessons will use media to communicate content to learners (often using cognitivist theories to design effective media) but may also ask that students demonstrate their learning (their construction of knowledge) by creating media. This constructivist approach to student media creation is reflected in Week 6 and Assignment 2.

Connectivism doesn’t make any arguments on the design of media in learning. This theory focuses on the networked nature of evolving knowledge and the resulting nature of learning. This puts less onus on instructor-constructed content or learning environments. The social media tools by which learners connect with emerging knowledge and people practicing and researching in their field are the point at which media interfaces with learning. Media is central to these social platforms emerging today. YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and the use of images in Twitter are the way many people connect, but discovering how the different media featured in these social platforms affects learning is an opportunity for future researchers.

Learning theories, more than the theoretical foundations of most disciplines, can coexist for any individual practitioner and in any single context. In a single curriculum there may be some outcomes best met with a behaviourist approach, others via a cognitivist approach, and some key outcomes demonstrated via constructivist projects.

A major resource for the theory behind learning from media is the work of Richard Mayer. His Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning resides within cognitivism. Mayer’s essential model for designing effective learning media is based on research into how media can increase the rate at which information from one’s working memory can be shifted to long-term memory, or how
retention can be transformed to transfer. This fits well within the cognitivist paradigm and informs the design of text, audio, graphics, animations, and videos. Mayer has also developed a set of principles that offer practical advice to educators. Each of these principles have been validated through research (Mayer, 2014, p. 390).

Mayer’s principles support three different conditions needed for learning. You will read more about them, but they are summarized below:


Table 31.2 Evidence-based principles for reducing extraneous processing
Principle Description Example
Coherence (Halpern et al., 2007; Mayer, 2005) Eliminate extraneous words and pictures Cut out interesting but irrelevant anecdotes and cartoons
Signaling (Mayer, 2005) Highlight essential words and pictures Use an outline and headings; put key terms in bold font for a text lesson
Spatial contiguity (Halpern et al., 2007; Mayer, 2005; Pashler et al., 2007) Place text next to the part of the graphic it describes Embed each part of a caption next to the corresponding part of an illustration
Temporal contiguity (Halpern et al., 2007; Mayer, 2005) Present corresponding graphics and spoken text at the same time In a narrated animation, describe the events in audio at the same time they are depicted on the screen
Redundancy (Mayer, 2005) Present graphics with spoken words rather than graphics with spoken and printed words Do not add onscreen text to a narrated animation
Expectation (Halpern et al., 2007) Present a preview of the test items or instructional objectives before the lesson Before this section of the chapter, present the question:
“What are the names, definitions, and examples of six principles for reducing extraneous processing?”



Table 31.3 Evidence-based principles for managing essential processing
Principle Description Example
Segmenting (Halpern et al., 2007; Mayer, 2005) Break a complex lesson into manageable parts Break a continuous narrated animation into small segments, each controlled by an onscreen “Continue” button
Pretraining (Mayer, 2005) Before a lesson, provide training in the
names and characteristics of key elements
Tell people the name, location, and actions of each part in braking system before showing a narrated animation on how brakes work
Modality (Mayer, 2005; Pashler et al., 2007) Present graphics with spoken text rather than with printed text Present a narrated animation on lightning rather than an animation with onscreen captions



Table 31.4 Evidence-based principles for fostering generative processing
Principle Description Example
Multimedia (Halpern et al., 2007; Mayer, 2005; Pashler et al., 2007) Present words and pictures rather than words alone Present a narrated animation on lightning rather than a narration
Personalization (Mayer, 2005) Put words in conversational style Say “I” and “you” rather than only use third person constructions
Voice Use human speech rather than machine speech Use recorded sound files of human voice rather than machine synthesized voice



To better understand these theories, see the lesson Learning Theories and the Online Environment from EDDL 5141.

Activity 1: Multimedia Learning Theory

You should either read Richard Mayer’s chapter setting-out his theory and principles, or view Richard Mayer giving a talk on the same points (or you can do both).

Consider the following questions as you learn about Mayer’s work. The first set of questions were written with page references to Mayer’s chapter, and the second set of questions include timings for the videos.

Once you have completed your reading or viewing, fashion your question responses, along with any other thoughts you may have, into reasonably coherent responses in the Week 2 Discussion topic. After you have posted, participate in the ongoing class discussion.


Read “Multimedia Instruction” in Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology (Mayer, 2014, pp. 385-399).

  1. Consider media that you have used for teaching in the past. How does the model of multimedia learning described on p. 388 and in Fig. 31.3 and Table 31.1 relate to your use of media? If you think about new online experiences that might be used
    for learning, are they represented in this model?
  2. Describe an instance from your teaching or learning where media was (or should have been) designed or modified to reduce extraneous processing. (See pp. 390–393.)
  3. Describe one adjustment you could make to manage essential processing in a media-supported lesson you have taught or studied. (See pp. 393–394.)
  4. You want to convert your PowerPoint presentation into a video to be distributed online. Describe how you might use Mayer’s principles for fostering generative processing to improve it. (See pp. 394–395.)


Watch this video of Richard Mayer’s presentation at Harvard University (2014, May 5) in interactive format from h5p.org or at Youtube through the link below:

Research-Based Principles for Multimedia Learning [Interactive H5P video] (Harvard University, 2014; K. Webster, 2019)

If you view the interactive 5HP video of Mayer’s Harvard talk, the questions will appear within the video. Be sure to take notes of your responses as you go, because the spot for answering questions in the video will not be retained in this instance. The interactive version presents the questions at the appropriate time within the video, but your typed answers will not be preserved. So keep a copy.

The times provided refer to the YouTube video:

  1. (23:28) Consider media that you have used for teaching in the past. How does the model of multimedia learning described in the video so far relate to your use of media? If you think about new online experiences that might be used for learning, are they represented in this model?
  2. (50:42) Describe an instance from your teaching or learning where media was (or should have been) designed or modified to reduce extraneous processing.
  3. (58:27) Describe one adjustment you could make to manage essential processing in a media-supported lesson you have taught or studied.
  4. (1:01:49) You want to convert your PowerPoint presentation into a video to be distributed online. Describe how you might use Mayer’s principles for fostering generative processing to improve it.

Topic 2: Educational Resources

Open Educational Resources (OER)

The first rule of educational media is: Don’t create if you can curate.

Finding a suitable media piece is much quicker than creating one on your own. Even if a media piece needs some adaptation by you before it’s a perfect fit, this is usually much easier than starting from scratch. But where do you find media that you can freely copy, adapt, and remix into something that suits your teaching? And what are the rules about copying media for education?

Key to the use of open educational resources is an understanding of copyright. Canadian copyright law is explained briefly in the work below. Open educational resources are a category of materials that educators should know how to use and adapt. These are typically offered with a Creative Commons license, so you can copy, reuse, and remix them to suit your needs. See “About the Licenses” (Creative Commons, n.d.) for an overview. You may have encountered this reading in a previous course in this program, but if you haven’t, or if copyright is not something you work with, read “Copyright for Educators” on TRU’s Kumu Wiki (Webster, 2021).

Using Indigenous Media for Learning

Developing and maintaining courses that are culturally inclusive is a crucial step towards creating an educational experience where everyone can feel that they belong. An important component of this within Canada is the Indigenization of curriculum in the K–12 and post-secondary sectors.

This topic is too involved to be covered within this course, but as you curate resources to support learning, you should have an understanding of where it is appropriate to use Indigenous media and where it is not.

Activity 2: Indigenous Curriculum in Your Context

Read “Section 4: Incorporating Diverse Sources of Indigenous Knowledge” in Pulling Together: A Guide for Curriculum Developers by Antoine, Mason, Mason, Palahicky, and Rodriguez de France (2018).

After reading the chapter on Indigenizing the curriculum, look through the policy documents relevant to your school, institution, or higher governing authority for guidance on incorporating  Indigenous content, activities, or pedagogy in your teaching and learning.

Write a short portfolio post on what you have found and how it could inform your selection or creation of educational media or your teaching practice in general. If you were unable to find any policy guidance on this topic, base your post on the first reading. If you are an educator in a context without an Indigenous/colonizer dynamic, comment on the challenges and opportunities you see in the reading above.

Activity 3: Read and Post

Read the three pages within the “What Is OER” section of the Faculty OER Toolkit, and watch the video Why Open Education Matters.

Write a short portfolio post explaining your possible needs for open education resources in your teaching. Do you need something you can adapt? Something you can share by copying? Something free? What sort of content can you see yourself contributing as an open education resource?

Activity 4: OER Scavenger Hunt

This activity will give you the opportunity to locate some OER that are appropriate for your subject and learner’s age level, or that could be adapted to suit your needs.

  1. Select two or three subjects that you teach, and drill down to one or two specific topics or skills that could be better supported with additional materials.
  2. Next, write a simple learning outcome for each of these subject/topic combinations. This is important because it is how you will judge if the resources you are finding are likely to be useful. For a resource on learning outcomes, see Course Objectives & Learning Outcomes developed by DePaul University’s Teaching Commons.
  3. Go to the collections listed below and start searching for Open Education Resources:
    1. Open Education Resources (OER): K-12 Curriculum: OER Content Sites, Tools & Resources” (Boston College Libraries, 2019). Check usage guidelines, not all collections curated are fully open.
    2. Types of OER (and where to find them)” in Faculty OER Toolkit (Moist, 2017).
    3. Shareable Media Kumu Wiki. (2019).
  4. In a blog post, describe two or three of the resources you found (include a link). Rate each resource for:
    1. how closely it matched the topic and level you teach;
    2. the quality of the resource; and
    3. whether you could use the resource as is, or you would need to adapt it.
  5. If you think you would need to adapt any of your resources, describe the process this might involve.

References and Resources

Required Resources

Antoine, A., Mason, R., Mason, R., Palahicky, S. & Rodriguez de France, C. (2018, September 5). Section 4: Incorporating diverse sources of Indigenous knowledge In, Pulling Together: A Guide for Curriculum Developers. BCcampus.

Blink Tower. (2012, June 4). Why open education matters [Video]. Vimeo.

Boston College Libraries. (2019, September 9). Open education resources (OER): K-12 curriculum: OER content sites, tools & resources.

Creative Commons. (n.d.). About the licenses.

Harvard University. (2014). Research-based principles for multimedia learning [Video]. YouTube.

Harvard University. (2014). Research-based principles for multimedia learning [Video file] With H5P interactive content by K. Webster.

Mayer, R. E. (2014). Multimedia instruction. In J. M. Spector, M. D. Merrill, J. Elen, & M. J. Bishop (Eds.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (4th ed., pp. 385-399). Springer Science & Business Media.

Moist, S. (2018). Faculty OER toolkit. BCcampus.

Webster, K. (2021, October 14). Copyright-for-educators. In Kumu Wiki.

Optional Resources

Anderson, T., & Dron, J. (2011). Three generations of distance education pedagogy. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning12(3), 80-97.

Christie, J. (2018). Week 3: Learning theories and the online environment. In M. Hall (Ed.), EDDL 5141: Online teaching and learning [Online course].

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2011). E-learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. Wiley.

UC Santa Barbara. (n.d.). Richard Mayer: Biography.

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