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Faraday and Sutcliffe (1997) conducted a series of studies that tracked eye-movement patterns during multimedia presentations. The authors identified guidelines for improving the learning of information. Some of these include:

  • Use speech to reinforce an image (including captions and labels),
  • Reveal information systematically to control attention,
  • Avoid animation or reveal motion during the moment of time when a label is being mentioned, and
  • Use animation to show more than just the initiation of an action; use it to show the result as well.

Literature Review

Lawrence Najjar at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (Najjar, 1998) completed a literature review of research-based principles related to learning. He concluded that certain characteristics of Web sites could significantly affect learning, some of these are discussed below.

Supportive Multimedia

When using multimedia, the information presented in one medium needs to support and extend the information presented in the other medium. For example, adding closely related, supportive graphics (illustrations or images) to textual or auditory verbal information improves learning.

Best Combinations

Lee and Bowers (1997) studied a group of university students to determine under which set of conditions people learned best. The participants were given a pre-test, they then learned the material, and then were given a post-test. Their learning was compared with the learning of a control group that took the same pre- and post-tests, but studied a different topic in-between. When compared with the learning performance of the control group, the people in the different groups always demonstrated more learning:

  • Hearing spoken text and looking at graphics – 91% more learning,
  • Looking at graphics alone – 63% more,
  • Reading printed text plus looking at graphics – 56% more,
  • Listening to spoken text, reading text, and looking at graphics – 46% more,
  • Hearing spoken text plus reading printed text – 32% more,
  • Reading printed text alone – 12% more,
  • Hearing spoken text alone – 7% more.

Elaborative Processing

To "elaborate" means that users take more time to analyze and store the information. This extra cognitive processing of information helps to better integrate the material with prior knowledge, which helps to improve learning. Some media seems to enhance elaborative processing more than others. For example, graphics tend to elicit more elaborative processing of information than does text. The learning advantage for graphics may occur because graphics contain more features (than words) that are available for the extra processing. Also, reading text seems to cause learners to more actively process information than simply hearing verbal narration.

Interactive Interfaces

Providing more interactivity in user interfaces appears to have a substantial positive effect on learning. Interactive interfaces

  • Allow learners to control, manipulate and explore material, or
  • Allow the computer to periodically ask learners to answer questions that help them to integrate the material, or
  • Both.

Interaction may be useful because it encourages learners to elaborate more. For this to occur, the interaction must be cognitively engaging (i.e., not merely selecting hyperlinks).

Directing Attention

Multimedia can help direct the learner's attention to the most relevant information on a page. At the same time, and for the same reason, irrelevant media may distract learners and actually decrease learning. Designers should not have unrelated pictures and meaningless motion (gratuitous animation) on a Web site.

Pete Faraday at Microsoft (Faraday, 2000) outlined an evidence-based framework for how multimedia information is usually processed by users on web pages. He concluded that the visual processing of web pages appeared to form a distinct visual hierarchy in which certain perceptual elements have priority. The major considerations included motion, size, images, color, text style and element location on a page.

He proposed that most users will

  • First search for any animated image,
  • Next search for larger elements,
  • Next search for images and text (favoring images),
  • Next search for colors (favoring brighter colors),
  • Next search for text style (favoring underlined, bold and italic), and
  • Next search for page position (favoring the top-middle of the page).

A couple of cautions are in order:

  • Having learners "attend to" or focus on a specific piece of information does not mean that they will better learn that information, and
  • Simple repetition of information does not necessarily improve learning.


The available evidence is stronger for some principles than for others. Najjar (1998) summarized the strength of evidence as follows:

  • Strongest evidence
    • Making the multimedia experience interactive, and
    • Creating tasks that encourage learners to actively process (elaborate) the information.
  • Moderate evidence
    • Using multimedia in a supportive, not decorative, way, and
    • Using motivated learners (the novelty of multimedia can increase motivation initially, but tends to fade over time).
  • Some evidence
    • Using multimedia to effectively focus the learner's attention,
    • Using the medium (speech, text, graphics) that best communicates the information, and
    • Using the medium(s) that best facilitate elaboration.

There is no question that multimedia, used appropriately, can improve a person's ability to learn and remember the contents of a Web site.


Faraday, P. (2000), Visually critiquing Web pages, 6th Conference on Human Factors & the Web.

Faraday, P. and Sutcliffe, A. (1997), Designing effective multimedia presentations, Proceedings of CHI '97, 272-278.

Lee, A.Y. and Bowers, A.N. (1997), The effect of multimedia components on learning, Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 340-344.

Najjar, L.J. (1998), Principles of educational multimedia user interface design, Human Factors, 41(2), 311-323.

Message from the CEO, Dr. Eric Schaffer — The Pragmatic Ergonomist

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Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

This Privacy Policy governs the manner in which Human Factors International, Inc., an Iowa corporation (“HFI”) collects, uses, maintains and discloses information collected from users (each, a “User”) of its website and any derivative or affiliated websites on which this Privacy Policy is posted (collectively, the “Website”). HFI reserves the right, at its discretion, to change, modify, add or remove portions of this Privacy Policy at any time by posting such changes to this page. You understand that you have the affirmative obligation to check this Privacy Policy periodically for changes, and you hereby agree to periodically review this Privacy Policy for such changes. The continued use of the Website following the posting of changes to this Privacy Policy constitutes an acceptance of those changes.


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Terms and Conditions for Public Training Courses

Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

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