One of the greatest parts of going to a school like UCSB is learning from some of the most influential people in academia. Last spring, I was lucky enough to be in a class that was taught by Dr. Richard Mayer, distinguished professor and psychologist whose research is focused on theories of cognition in the classroom. His theories on problem-solving and multimedia have landed him awards granted by the American Psychological Association. Hearing him speak every Tuesday and Thursday was pretty neat — it made my out-of-state tuition feel a little more worth it.
Mayer’s most famous contribution to educational psychology is his Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning, which emphasizes that we are able to learn more from a combination of words and pictures rather than just words alone. The rationale behind this is much more intricate than it may seem.
Our brain has two different channels that select information depending on the way it is presented. We either take in information visually (think pictures, YouTube videos, PowerPoint presentations, print) or we take it in through our auditory channel. Our visual and auditory channels make up our sensory memory. The issue with sensory memory is that it fades away quickly.
If information happens to be presented in two different channels, our brain is wired to make connections between the verbal and visual modes of representation. These representations are further integrated into our prior schemas and experiences in our working memory and then transferred to long-term memory.
What does this mean in “real life”?
Our brains have a limited capacity for information, meaning that we are easily overwhelmed with too many words or pictures on a page. Next time you’re making a study guide, try to reduce the amount of words you put on the page.
Because our brains are created to make connections, it is important to make mental models to make this active processing easier to integrate into long-term memory. Whether it is a cause-and-effect model, comparing two different pieces of information, or classifying information — all of these mental models force your brain to be active.
Next time you’re studying, choose a method that requires you to integrate more than just text on a page. It may pay off in the long run.