Multimedia animation

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“One of the most exciting forms of pictoral presentation is animation. Animation refers to a simulated motion picture depictingmovementof drawn (or simulated) objects. The main features of this definition are as follows: (1) picture - an animation is a kind of pictorial representation; (2) motion - an animation depicts apparent movement; and (3) simulated - an animation consists of objects that are artificially created through drawing or some other simulation method.” (Mayer 2002:88)

“The potential educational benefits of animation arise from its capacity to portray temporal change directly and explicitly” (Lowe and Schnotz, ?)

See also: multimedia (disambiguation page for multimedia presentation, interactive multimedia, etc.) and pages related to human information processing, in particular cognitive load.

An animation with respect to video is like a picture with respect to a drawing. According to Ploetzner & Lowe, 2012), a animation includes:

  • depictive representation
  • perception of continuous change
  • modeled entities
  • Visually mimic the displayed process.


The consensus among media researchers is that animation may or may not promote learning, depending on how it is used. For these reasons the search for media effects has been called off. In its place is a search for the conditions under which various media, such as animation, affect the learning process. Taking a learner-centered approach, we aim to understand how animation can be used in ways that are consistent with how people learn. Instead of asking, "does animation improve learning?" we ask "when and how does animation affect learning?" (Mayer 2002:88)

With recent technology advances, computers now offer animated graphic devices, which seem attractive and efficient to instructional designers. However, the research carried out so far failed to establish the advantages of using animated graphics over static ones on learning. Among several problems, animations seem to increase the learners' cognitive load, hence reducing the cognitive resources available for learning. Nevertheless, we believe that, beyond these shortcomings, animations offer unique opportunities to understand dynamic systems. To bypass these shortcomings, we need to deepen our understanding of the cognitive benefits that can be expected from animations in order to turn this understanding into design principles.(Bétrancourt).

The use of animations is not limited to user-system communication but is also often used in computer-supported collaborative learning. In these settings as well, the empirical studies have not confirmed the benefits that one could intuitively expect from the use of animations. This lack of positive results may be explained either in terms of cognitive load, as in user-system interactions, or may be used to the fact that peers use external representation to ground their mutual understanding. Our basic claim is that animation can effectively promote the construction of a mental model of dynamic systems since animation can depict the micro-steps of dynamic systems more easily than static graphics. However, the processing of animation induces a heavy perceptual and memory load. (Bétrancourt).

Multimedia animation understanding is a demanding complex process and requires both bottom-up and top-down processing (Lowe): local exploration (phase 1), regional structure formation, global characterization, functional differentiation, mental model consolidation (phase 5). Effects of (well construed) multimedia animations vs. static pictures seem to be stronger when the problem animated is complex. A compelling reason for using animation is when the motion effect has to be learned (Ploetzer).

Usages and function of multimedia animation in education

Typical usages

  • To inform about the state of process (e.g. progress bars that show the percentage of program loading)
  • Demonstrations (e.g. show how a volcano may interrupt by moving tectonic plates)
  • Interactive simulations (e.g. have a learner fuel and point a rocket and then show its flight path)

Pedagogical function

  • Motivation, get students interested in some phenomenon and to explore it.
  • Representation, help to support mental representation
  • Organization
  • Interpretation, provoke cognitive conflicts that make the students think.

Design principles

Difficulties and main principles

  • It is very hard for learners to understand / infer from movement
  • Animation has no inherent support for conceptualization
  • Information is transitory

In addition to these well-known general multimedia principles recalled below, there animation specific principles

According to R. Ploetzner (talk, Sept. 2018), the following strategies provide to be effective

  • providing spoken explanations
  • Encourage the use of learning strategies
  • Segmenting the animation

According to the same author, enabling user control or guiding visual attention is not very effective.

General multimedia principles

Mayer's principles

Mayer's Seven Principles of Multimedia Learning (Mayer 2002:94) of which we present a more detailed version in the multimedia presentation article also holds for animations:

  1. Multimedia principle: Deeper learning from animation and narration than from narration alone.
  1. Spatial contiguity principle: Deeper learning when corresponding text and animation are presented near rather than far from each other on the screen
  2. Temporal contiguity principle: Deeper learning when corresponding narration and animation are presented simultaneously rather than successively
  3. Coherence principle: Deeper learning when extraneous narration, sounds, and video are excluded rather than included
  4. Modality principle: Deeper learning from animation and narration than from animation and on-screen text.
  5. Redundancy principle: Deeper learning from animation and narration than from animation, narration, and on-screen text.
  6. Personalization principle: Deeper learning when narration or on-screen text is conversational rather than formal.

Sweller's principles

Based on his researches and on the Cognitive load theory, Sweller (2003) defines several guidelines to design efficient learning materials:

  1. Split attention effect: When multiple sources of information have to be integrated in order to understand the material, this will be negative for learning. Typically legends should be integrated in diagrams and not be regouped on the side.
  2. Redundancy effect: The same information presented several times will be processed several times, this is negative for comprehension since cognitive load will increase.
  3. Goal-free effect: Novice learner following specific questions while learning (i.e. studying the material) will focus on these questions and the global comprehension will be hindered.
  4. Worked examples effect: concepts should be explained through worked out examples (already resolved problems) in order to lower the cognitive load and improve learning.
  5. Problem completion effect: A worked example should be followed by unresolved examples
  6. Modality effect: Different messages should come form different sensory modalities (typically visual or aural).
  7. Element interactivity effect: An interactive learning material is negative to the learning performance since it highers he split attention and redundancy effects.
  8. Isolated interacting element effect: When learning complex models involving interacting elements, every element should be presented separately before being integrated with the others.
  9. Imagination effect: Mentally simulate le functionning and interaction between the elements allow expert to obtain higher results.
  10. Expertise reversal effect: With expertise, several of the previous effects are inversed. Classical guidelines of conception should then be used.
  11. Guidance fading effect : While gaining expertise, learners should be less and less guided in their pedagogical activities and exercices.
Examples needed here


There is a lot of animation software and we can distinguish several sorts. Most animations now can be delivered over the web, usually through a browser extension/plugin. We indexed software on other pages:



  • Tversky, B. Bauer-Morrison, J., & Bétrancourt, M. (2002) Animation: Can it facilitate? International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 57, 247-262.
  • Berney, S. & Bétrancourt, M. (2016). Does animation enhance learning? A meta-analysis. Computers and Education, 101 (2016), 150-167. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2016.06.005
  • Bétrancourt, M., Bauer-Morrison, J. & Tversky, B. (2001). Les animations sont-elles vraiment plus efficaces ? Revue d\u2019intelligence artificielle, 14 (1-2), 149-166.
  • Bétrancourt, M. & Tversky, B. (2000). Effect of computer animation on users' performance: a review. Le travail Humain, 63(4), 311-330.
  • Bétrancourt, M. & Bisseret, A. (1998). Integrating textual and pictorial information via pop-windows: an experimental study. Behavior and Information Technology 17 (5), 263-273.
  • Bétrancourt, M. & Tversky, B. (submitted). Simple animations for organizing diagrams. submitted to International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.
  • Bétrancourt, M. (in press). The animation and interactivity principles, in R. E. Mayer (ed.) Handbook of Multimedia, Pergamon Press.
  • Kombartzky, U., Ploetzner, R., Schlag, S., & Metz, B. (2010). Developing and evaluating a strategy for learning from animations. Learning and Instruction, 20(5), 424-433.
  • Rebetez, C., Sangin, M., Bétrancourt, M., & Dillenbourg, P. (2004). Effects of collaboration in the context of learning from animations, In Proceedings of the EARLI SIG meeting on Comprehensionof Texts and Graphics: Basic and applied issues (pp 187-192), September 2004, Valencia (Spain
  • Lowe, R.K. (2004). Interrogation of a dynamic visualization during learning. Learning and Instruction, 14, 257-274.
  • Lowe, R., & Schnotz, W. (Eds.). (2008). Learning with animation: Research implications for design. Cambridge University Press.
  • Mayer, R.E., & Moreno, R. (2002). Animation as an aid to multimedialearning. Educational Psychology Review, 14, 87-99. PDF (Access restricted)
  • Mayer, Richard E. , The promise of multimedia learning: using the same instructional design methods across different media, Learning and Instruction, Volume 13, Issue 2, , April 2003, Pages 125-139. Abstract/PDF (Access restricted). (Note: The same journal issue also contains other important articles on multimedia in education)
  • Ploetzner, R. E., & Lowe, R. E. (2004, June). Guest editorial: Dynamic visualisations and learning. In International Workshop on Dynamic Visualisations and Learning, Jul, 2002, Knowledge Media Research Center, Tübingen, Germany; This Special Issue is based upon presentations made during this workshop.. Elsevier Science.
  • Stempler, Luann K. (1997), Educational Characteristics of Multimedia: A Literature Review, Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia (1997) 6(3/4), 339-359. PDF
  • Tversky, B., Morrison, J. B., & Bétrancourt M. (2002). Animation: Can it facilitate? International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 57, 247-262.