Multimedia Design Principles Part 1: Keep it Simple

Raise your hand if you have created more training videos, more PowerPoint presentations, or more online course modules in the last year than ever before? As I suspected. OK, you can all put your hands down. So, let me ask you this question. How do you ensure your final product becomes an effective learning resource?

This 3-part blog series is designed to answer this very question. Richard Mayer, a distinguished professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has made significant contributions to cognition and learning theories, especially as these theories relate to the design of educational multimedia. One of Mayer’s best-known contributions to the field of education is the multimedia learning theory. He suggests the best learning occurs when multimedia presentations contain words and graphics versus words alone (Clark & Mayer, 2016).

As a springboard from this theory, Mayer developed the 12 Principles of Multimedia Learning. These principles fall within three design goals: Keep it Simple, Keep it Short, and Keep it Real. Keeping it simple requires the application of five of Mayer’s principles: Coherence, signaling, redundancy, spatial contiguity, and temporal contiguity principles. Before introducing these principles, it is necessary to understand a fundamental theory of effective and efficient learning—cognitive load theory.

Have you ever sat in a classroom or a training session, and felt like the information was coming at you so fast, or was so complex, it was like drinking water from a fire hose? If so, you were experiencing information overload. Cognitive load theory is designed with the understanding that your mind has limited processing capability. You can only effectively consume limited amounts of information at any given time.

Hence our Keep it Simple, Keep it Short, and Keep it Real design goals. A thorough understanding of cognitive load theory helps with the design of learning materials so that information is presented at an appropriate pace and complexity level. Such design allows learners the opportunity to comprehend their learning more fully. So, when keeping it simple, we effectively reduce extraneous processing by avoiding the use of learning materials that distract learners and make learning difficult.

In his seminal book Multimedia Learning, Mayer (2009) discusses his 12 principles that shape the design and organization of multimedia presentations. The five principles that reduce extraneous processing are as follows:

  1. Coherence Principle - Students learn better when extraneous words, pictures, and sounds are excluded rather than included.
  2. Signaling Principle - Students learn better when cues that highlight the organization of the essential material are added.
  3. Redundancy Principle - Students learn better from graphics and narration than from graphics, narration, and on-screen text.
  4. Spatial Contiguity Principle - Students 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 - Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively.

Andrew DeBell, a training consultant and digital marketing strategist at Water Bear Learning, has written a highly informative blog, providing helpful examples to support each of Mayer’s 12 principles. Check out How to Use Mayer’s 12 Principles of Multimedia [Examples Included] to see helpful visual support for the five Keep it Simple principles (DeBell, 2019).

The following table provides an overview of the Keep it Simple multimedia principles, including learning effect and design example. So, armed with this new knowledge, rather than inundate your audience with copious text, why not use a little learning science to help you Keep it Simple and enhance student learning.

Table 1

Keep it Simple Multimedia Principles



Note. Adapted from Documentation: Design principles for multimedia by UBC Wikis, 2018. Creative Commons Copyright.


Dr. Katie Buvoltz

Associate Director Faculty Support and Development &

Associate Professor, School of Education

Northcentral University


Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). E-learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning (4th ed.). Wiley.

DeBell, A. (2019, December 11). How to use Mayer’s 12 principles of multimedia learning [examples included]. Water Bear Learning.

Documentation: Design principles for multimedia. (2018, September 6). In University of British Columbia Wikis.

Mayer, R. E. (2014). Research-based principles for designing multimedia instruction. In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.), Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum (pp. 59-70). Washington, DC: Society for the Teaching of Psychology.

Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia learning (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press.