Thoughts on Multimedia Design Principles

Adam Pate, PharmD, BCPS
University of Louisiana at Monroe

Where did you learn to make a PowerPoint? Funny question right. For most of us it has been trial and error. Although active learning is becoming more popular many faculty members still rely on PowerPoint and/or may not be comfortable with adopting active learning. Is there a way to transition to active learning, make PowerPoint relevant again or dare we say even useful in teaching? A look at multimedia learning and multimedia design principles gives us hope.

Most faculty members have little to no training in multimedia design and cognitive load management. They just make PowerPoint(s) the best they can. Unfortunately, as a multimedia platform if we apply written information principles (bullets and words) to PowerPoint it often results in death by PowerPoint and classroom disengagement.

Contrast this to a multimedia design adherent PowerPoint and current evidence suggest that applying multimedia design principles (MMDP) can improve both retention and application of material.1  Additionally, both short and long-term transfer and retention of material were improved in medical students by adhering to multimedia design principles in PowerPoint.2 Limited evidence in pharmacy education also suggests students are comfortable with this PowerPoint design, feel confident in their learning from it, and may perform better on exam material when lectured with a PowerPoint adhering to MMDP rather than “traditional” PowerPoint.3 Looking at this evidence one cannot help but wonder if maybe PowerPoint is not so bad, we have just been using it wrong. 

Multimedia design not only applies to PowerPoint, but any multimedia platform. Once you start learning about multimedia design you’ll quickly realize the extent of its application and understand why the American Association of Medical Colleges endorses it. This sounds great, but if you’re thinking about using this where do you start?

Richard Mayer is considered the father of multimedia design principles so start by understanding his cognitive theory of multimedia learning which provides the theory behind the practice.4 Next simply read Mayer’s nine methods to reduce cognitive load and see which ones make sense to you.5 Then get started changing your multimedia. If it is a PowerPoint it may be easiest to go slide by slide and think about what is the main goal you are trying to convey with each slide. Then make a newspaper style heading at the top to help orient your audience and find 2 to 4 pictures to demonstrate what you are talking about. The idea is your old bulletpoints become spoken words and relevant pictures replace them on the slide. Be prepared for students to feel very uncomfortable without having “everything they need to know” in words on a slide. Help them through this by preparing them beforehand and sharing with them the science behind this change and how it should help them learn. This may increase acceptance and let’s them know you are only trying to help. Admittedly change like this takes a great deal of time and effort, but in the end it’ll be worth it.


  1. Issa N, Schuller, Santacaterina S, et al. Applying multimedia design principles enhances learning in medical education. Med Educ. 2011;45:818-826.
  2. Issa N, Mayer R, Schuller M, et al. Teaching for understanding in medical classrooms using multimedia design principles. Med Educ. 2013;47:388-396.
  3. Pate A, Posey S. Effects of applying multimedia design principles in powerpoint lecture redesign. Curr Pharm Teach Learn. 2016;8(2):235-239. 
  4.  Mayer, RE. Multimedia learning. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press; 2009.
  5. Mayer RE, Moreno R. Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educ Psychol. 2003;38(1):43-52.