Principles to Improve your powerpoints and teaching videos | Tech Teaching Tips from Timothy Corvidae

Timothy Corvidae (he/him), Instructional Designer at the Washington Center, brings a range of experience in curriculum design, instruction, and facilitation. Check out his full bio on our website and connect for further conversations on online teaching at Evergreen.

Most of us spend a lot of time making powerpoint slides and recording lectures for online classes, but we might be left wondering whether what we make really works for students. Cognitive psychologist Richard Mayer and colleagues developed a cognitive theory of multimedia learning to help us out. That theory las led to 12 research-based principles. That’s a lot of principles to keep track of, but each offers clear, simple, concrete implications for how we design. I’ll highlight a few here, and then you can check out this video series or this website to learn about the rest.


  1. The Coherence Principle – People learn better when extraneous words, pictures and sounds are excluded rather than included.

Application: Keep content simple and to the point. Use graphics whenever possible, but only if they are directly relevant to the points


  1. The Signaling Principle – People learn better when cues that highlight the organization of the essential material are added.

 Application: Emphasize important content with arrows, call-outs, and bold or highlighted key words. Do this judiciously, though. You don’t want to violate the Coherence Principle as you try to implement this one. 


  1. The Redundancy Principle – People learn better from graphics with narration than from graphics, narration and on-screen text. Trying to process graphics, narration, and on-screen text at once can be overwhelming for viewers. Reduce cognitive load by limiting on-screen text as much as possible. If you can’t express the idea through a visual, explain it with narration instead.

Application: Prioritize imagery and narration over on-screen text. For real, our brains do poorly at reading and listening at the same time. Don’t try to make your slides into thorough notes.


Jumping forward to some later principles . . .


  1. The Segmenting Principle – People learn better from a multimedia lesson that is presented in user-paced segments rather than as a continuous unit.

 Application: Make more than one shorter lecture video (2-6 minutes), instead of making one longer one (over 10 minutes). Determine the best way to divide content and organize it in a logical manner. 

  1. The Personalization Principle – People learn better from multimedia lessons when words are in conversational style rather than formal style.

 Application: Use accessible language. Mostly, be yourself!

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