Multimedia instructions and cognitive load theory: effects of modality and cueing

Huib K Tabbers*, Rob L Martens, Jeroen J G van Merriënboer

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    BACKGROUND: Recent research on the influence of presentation format on the effectiveness of multimedia instructions has yielded some interesting results. According to cognitive load theory (Sweller, Van Merriënboer, & Paas, 1998) and Mayer's theory of multimedia learning (Mayer, 2001), replacing visual text with spoken text (the modality effect) and adding visual cues relating elements of a picture to the text (the cueing effect) both increase the effectiveness of multimedia instructions in terms of better learning results or less mental effort spent.

    AIMS: The aim of this study was to test the generalisability of the modality and cueing effect in a classroom setting.

    SAMPLE: The participants were 111 second-year students from the Department of Education at the University of Gent in Belgium (age between 19 and 25 years).

    METHOD: The participants studied a web-based multimedia lesson on instructional design for about one hour. Afterwards they completed a retention and a transfer test. During both the instruction and the tests, self-report measures of mental effort were administered.

    RESULTS: Adding visual cues to the pictures resulted in higher retention scores, while replacing visual text with spoken text resulted in lower retention and transfer scores.

    CONCLUSIONS: Only a weak cueing effect and even a reverse modality effect have been found, indicating that both effects do not easily generalise to non-laboratory settings. A possible explanation for the reversed modality effect is that the multimedia instructions in this study were learner-paced, as opposed to the system-paced instructions used in earlier research.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)71-81
    Number of pages11
    JournalBritish Journal of Educational Psychology
    Issue numberPt 1
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2004


    • Adult
    • Cognition
    • Computer-Assisted Instruction
    • Cues
    • Educational Technology/instrumentation
    • Female
    • Humans
    • Learning
    • Male
    • Mental Recall
    • Multimedia
    • Research Design
    • Teaching


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