Cuomo’s Masterclass in Multimedia Learning Design

We can't be stupid about multimedia learning design
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When conveying important information, it is hard to understate the importance of multimedia learning design in getting your message across. Right now, there is nothing more important than getting information about the coronavirus out to the world. If you live in New York state you will no doubt have seen one of Governor Andrew Cuomo‘s daily briefings, designed to keep citizens of his state informed. What you may not have seen is a masterclass in learning design that diligently follows the cognitive theory of multimedia learning design.

Less is more

You are wrong if you don't follow multimedia learning design
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In this hilariously straightforward slide, Cuomo is seeking to dispel myths that threaten to undermine the good work being done across the state. Let’s ignore the white text on yellow background and give him (or his staff) a pass on that one. What this slide does so well is using the Coherence principle to ruthlessly weed out unnecessary words and get straight to the point. There are no images or animations to distract from the simple message: younger people are also complying with the state-mandated lockdown rules.

Keep it close

multimedia learning design using simple text on images
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These images show a striking contrast between an empty Manhattan landmark (in this case, Central Park) and a crowded one. The message is simple: not practicing social distancing can put a life in danger (note: the heading on the right is purposefully vague, it could be your life, it could be someone else’s). What this slide does so well is to combine a few words and graphics close together to make its point. This is a perfect example of the Contiguity principle. 

Chunk it

multimedia learning design and spaced repetition
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Social distancing saves lives. The same important message as the previous slide. A different New York landmark (Times Square). There is some Spaced repetition going on here, as well as a multimedia learning design principle known as Segmenting. Breaking content into smaller chunks helps people consume information more effectively. Repeating those chunks, as the Cuomo team are doing here, is incredibly effective at helping people retain important instruction, which social distancing clearly is.

Say it, don’t text it

Simple slides in multimedia learning design
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Too much information on a slide is the literal death-by-PowerPoint. The Gov’s slides do a great job of avoiding this by employing the Modality principle to present information as speech rather than text on screen. In this example, a simple slide showing the state of Oregon and two attributes he wants you to associate with it were all he needed to convey his message (which he delivered to the camera) that Oregon was sending 140 ventilators to New York to help out the state in more trouble. Simple. Powerful. Effective.

Front-load it

good multimedia learning design flattens the curve
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This one isn’t completely clear from the visual, but before presenting these curves, the Governor does an excellent job explaining the principles of projection models – what they can show us, how they are only as good as the data we feed into them, and how they must constantly be updated to reflect the latest data. Then he shows a simple curve, clearly annotated with the information we need to know – where we are now, and where the model is projecting we will be if certain actions are followed or not. This is a classic example of the Pretraining principle in which Cuomo takes the time to explain how the models work by clarifying definitions and concepts BEFORE showing the curves that show the relationship and connections between those concepts. By this point, you must be thinking, classic Cuomo. 

Make it personal

We can't be stupid about multimedia learning design
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The Personalization principle has studies to prove that using a conversational style that incorporates words like “you”, “we” and “us” results in improved learning retention. We tend to work harder when we feel that instruction is coming to us from a peer versus a lecturer. Cuomo and his team do an excellent job of using this kind of language in all their briefings. WE are in this together. Flattening the curve is up to US. It’s a collective response needed to stop a virus like this and Cuomo makes this point repeatedly in the words he chooses.

Don’t be redundant

What you can’t see from these images is that Cuomo very rarely reads out what is on the slide. In fact, he very rarely reads anything, preferring to speak to points that are supported by the slides. This is a great example of the Redundancy principle which reminds us never to present information as graphics, or worse, on-screen text, when that information is repeated as narration.

Andrew Cuomo and his team have an almost-impossible task on their hands. They have not done everything right by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re doing a lot of good, and part of that is clear, regular communication.

multimedia learning design is even evident in these graphs
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Source: New York Times

I mean, would you want the responsibility of making these decisions amidst such uncertainty about the virus?

Me neither.

But let’s give them credit for the good work they have done. And a special mention for the quality of the multimedia learning design in their daily briefing slides.

We can't be stupid about multimedia learning design
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