Applying the cognitive theory of multimedia learning: an analysis of medical animations


Carole Yue, Department of Psychology, University of California Los Angeles, 1285 Franz Hall, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA. Tel: 00 1 310-825-2961; E-mail:


Context  Instructional animations play a prominent role in medical education, but the degree to which these teaching tools follow empirically established learning principles, such as those outlined in the cognitive theory of multimedia learning (CTML), is unknown. These principles provide guidelines for designing animations in a way that promotes optimal cognitive processing and facilitates learning, but the application of these learning principles in current animations has not yet been investigated. A large-scale review of existing educational tools in the context of this theoretical framework is necessary to examine if and how instructional medical animations adhere to these principles and where improvements can be made.

Methods  We conducted a comprehensive review of instructional animations in the health sciences domain and examined whether these animations met the three main goals of CTML: managing essential processing; minimising extraneous processing, and facilitating generative processing. We also identified areas for pedagogical improvement. Through Google keyword searches, we identified 4455 medical animations for review. After the application of exclusion criteria, 860 animations from 20 developers were retained. We randomly sampled and reviewed 50% of the identified animations.

Results  Many animations did not follow the recommended multimedia learning principles, particularly those that support the management of essential processing. We also noted an excess of extraneous visual and auditory elements and few opportunities for learner interactivity.

Conclusions  Many unrealised opportunities exist for improving the efficacy of animations as learning tools in medical education; instructors can look to effective examples to select or design animations that incorporate the established principles of CTML.