May 2022 Update – This year (2022) CUP published a new, now third, edition of the Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia learning (FULL detailed ToC Access), that joins the 3rd edition of the Multimedia Learning updated in mid-2020.

Both have been significantly updated, and my initial impression is still the same as with the first editions: both are very useful, good-to-have (if not must-have) references for anyone working with instructional design and educational multimedia production. At the same time my previous reservations are even more salient now than before: with so many new principles, the new challenge is not deciding what works (this is clear because all the principles are supported by extensive research an clearly noted effect sizes), but rather how this veritable thicket of criss-crossing principles can be consistently and systematically applied in practical design of real-world courses, educational experiences, and activities.

Of the two books, the shorter Multimedia Learning has also been expanded so much, compared to its first edition, that it’s much less practical – at this point if I were to recommend just ONE of these books, I’d go with the newer, more in-depth Cambridge Handbook, because it is more comprehensive, more up-to-date, and offers more detail (this is a change from my original recommendation for the 1st and 2n editions, see notes below). And figuring out how to apply the principles is going to be no more or less challenging with either book. I do not want to be misunderstood: these are both excellent and much needed reference books, and I am glad to have them available. At the same time we are in urgent need of having someone write Applying Multimedia Principles to Course Design-type of book that systematically weighs various principles, balances different applications and offers practical guidelines for instructional designers and instructors. Although the Handbook makes a few attempts at bringing some research-based principles together into coherent, useable frameworks in at least two “synthesis-focused” chapters: CH8 on Van Merriënboer’s Four-Component Instructional Design Model (4C/ID model), and CH45 on Multimedia Learning in e-Courses by Ruth Colvin Clark (who provides a pandemic-informed perspective), both chapters seem just tacked-on ad-hoc to the book, and are not closely integrated with the list of principles which have been the core of the Handbook and Mayer’s Multimedia Learning, and so they are – alas – by far less useful than one would expect in the context of the book. A welcome addition to the book is the inclusion of generative learning ideas, based on an updated review of information from Fiorella’s 2015 book Learning as a Generative Activity.

Translating specific principles into specific practical applications in online / blended instructional design is something definitely worth exploring, and I thought it would be a good undertaking for a reflection to be shared here, on this blog. I plan to make this my focus in a new series of blog posts for the 2nd half of this year, collectively grouped under the applying multimedia principles (AMP, for short) blog category.

My original notes on 2nd edition: Admittedly, I was first impressed with the earlier, smaller, and simpler (just 10 principles!) 2008 Multimedia Learning. This, The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning (2014), is more extensive, impressive, and complete, but it can be overwhelming. It’s depth can have a somewhat paralyzing effect when it comes to practical application in the classroom: here is the principle; here are the effect sizes; wait: here are boundary conditions – will it work in my classroom? Who knows… more knowledge makes you realize how much is still unknown…

My recommendation would be to start with Mayer’s more accessible original (whose new 3rd edition is to be released on August 13, 2020), and then venture into this much more complex and more in-depth territory…

From the introduction: “Multimedia learning is learning from words and pictures. The rationale for studying multimedia learning is that people can learn more deeply from words and pictures than from words alone. A goal of research on multimedia learning is to understand how to design multimedia learning environments that promote meaningful learning. The research base concerning multimedia learning is reflected in the 34 chapters of this handbook. What is new in this second edition is a sharp increase in the research base, the addition of seven new principles of multimedia learning , a broadening of contexts for studying multimedia learning , a better delineation of boundary conditions for principles , and refinements of theories of multimedia learning.”

“People can learn more deeply from words and pictures than from words alone. This seemingly simple proposition- which can be called the multimedia learning hypothesis – is the main focus of this second edition of The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning . Each of the 34 chapters examines an aspect of the multimedia learning hypothesis…” (p.1)

Mayer & Fiorella: Updated Core Multimedia Principles (2022)