Collaboration Principle in Multimedia Learning: A Remix

A summary of Chapter 23 in The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning written by Paul A. Kirschner, Kemke Kirschner, and Jeroen Janssen

This chapter discusses three principles for effective collaborative multimedia learning, and they determine when and under what conditions collaboration will positively affect learning in a multimedia environment.



Collaborative learning, learning in teams, is most effective when the learning task is cognitively demanding enough to warrant a collaboration.  A task is described as cognitively demanding when:

  1. It overtly taxes the working memory of the learning
  2. When the benefits of collaboration exceed the transactional activity costs (the cognitive effort expended during collaboration)


Three sub-principles of collaboration in multimedia learning:

  1. The learning task is cognitively demanding enough to require collaboration and thus the effective use of a collective working memory.

Collaboration should be considered when the distribution advantage is greater than the transactional activity costs.  The distribution advantage is a benefit of collaboration because the cognitive load generated when collaborating can be spread amongst members of the group.  This allows members to free up cognitive energy to focus on the learning activities.  Transactional activity costs are the costs associated with individual groups members have to expend cognitive energy while collaborating in activities such thinking, communicating and internalizing others thoughts.  Accordingly to the authors, a learning task is recommended for collaboration when the benefits of the distribution advantage outweigh the transactional activity costs.  Collaborating is most beneficial when learners engage in high-complexity tasks and problem-solving activities.


How Does This Relate To My Practice?

I need to be mindful when asking my learners to collaborate on tasks.  The task needs to be cognitively demanding enough to warrant a collaboration.  It is possible to collaborate too much, and to do it without much thought.  Collaboration between students is best suited to situations that involve higher level thinking skills such as synthesizing and problem-solving, rather than collaborating for collaborating sake.


  1. Multimedia Should Stimulate Effective and Efficient Distribution of Thoughts and Cognitive Processes While Members Carry Out Tasks.

It is important to consider who in a group, of collaborative learners, has the working knowledge of the task and how they effectively share it with other group members. Communication takes place on two levels, the individual and the group level.  Sharing of information involves the externalization of thoughts towards group members and the subsequent internalization of those thoughts by group members.  The effectiveness of sharing information in a group is influenced by factors such as social loafing and the hidden profile paradigm.  Social loafing is the phenomenon where individuals tend to expend less energy when working collectively than when working individually.  Picture team members taking it easy during a tug-of-war event.  The hidden profile paradigm refers to the tendency of collaborative learners, working on complex tasks, not to effectively share information that is only available to one group member.  Interdependence is a key indicator to collaborative success.  The tools used in multimedia collaboration should facilitate group interdependence.  “To maximize information sharing, group members need to be dependent on each other for successfully carrying out and completing a task, should be aware of each other’s knowledge and expertise, and should be made accountable for, visualize, and evaluate the effort they invest.” (Mayer, 2005)


How Does This Relate To My Practice?

This is a reminder that, if a cooperative learning task is to be successful, each member of the group must realize that they have an important role to play in the dynamics of the group.  Assigning individual roles to each group member, in order the scaffold the process, may help.


  1. Multimedia Should Facilitate Effective and Efficient Communication and Regulations of Actions.  

Effective communication between group members is necessary because collaboration is a complex activity.  In this sub-principle, the authors discuss the importance of relationships in collaborative groups.  A complementary relationship is described as one where people have significantly different functions or characteristics and can compensate for each other’s limitations.  Whereas a supplementary relationship is defined as a relationship where people have many things in common.

Researchers have found that students working in cooperative groups share knowledge and information they have in common, and negate to share their unique knowledge.  Consequently, it is important that members understand the unique skills each member of the group brings to the partnership.  How effectively members do this is a reflection of how useful the group will be at meeting their goals.  Profile and document sharing is a good way for all members to share their expertise and skill sets.

Collaboration in multimedia learning will be effective and efficient if the multimedia environment provides group members with tools to engage in meaningful interaction and thus to effectively and efficiently share their cognitive resources.

The authors suggest three ways multimedia can support effective and efficient communication and self-regulation:


  • Offering sufficient opportunities to communicate effectively either through asynchronous communication channels (e.g., email, discussion boards, Internet forums) or through synchronous channels (e.g., chat, video conferencing)
  • Increasing awareness of group activities by creating a multimedia environment that offers information about group members’ knowledge, understanding, or opinions.  In addition, multimedia learning environments should also inform group member of their participation.  Researchers found that this led to a more balanced discussion schedule (Bachour, Kaplan, & Dillenbourg, 2010)
  • Use scripts to support collaboration.  Scripts take the form of adaptations for learns by structuring their interactions including metacognitive activities at the end of a learning sequence. (Weinberger, Ertl, Fischer, & Mandl, 2005)


How Does This Relate To My Practice?

I particularly like the use of scripts at the intermediate level to aid in the collaboration process.  I use this practice a lot with my whole-group literacy instruction, but now realize I can incorporate into many other areas of instruction.  Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I plan to think more carefully about when and whom I ask students to collaborate.  It is often detrimental to throw students together and ask them to collaborate on a task when they may not have had the opportunity to develop relationships, and understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses.


Bachour, K., Kaplan, F., & Dillenbourg, P. (2010). An Interactive Table for Supporting Participation Balance in Face-to-Face Collaborative Learning. IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies, 3(3), 203–213. doi:10.1109/TLT.2010.18


Mayer, R. E. (2005). The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning. IThe Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning (Vol. 16, p. 663). doi:10.1075/idj.16.1.13pel


Weinberger, A., Ertl, B., Fischer, F., & Mandl, H. (2005). Epistemic and social scripts in computer?supported collaborative learning. Instructional Science, 33(1), 1–30. doi:10.1007/s11251-004-2322-4


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