An Evaluation of Two Components of Google Apps for Education Against the Theories and Principles of Multimedia Learning

Google Apps for Education (GAFE) is a suite of free productivity tools for classroom collaboration.  The application includes Google Docs, Slides, Forms, Sheets, Gmail, Calendar, Google+, and Classroom.  The primary tools included in this evaluation are Google Docs and Google Hangout.  Google Docs is a word processing application that allows users to add text, images, tables, and drawing.  With Google Docs, multiple users can work on the same document at the same time.  The programs allow editing in real-time and have a comment and chat feature built in.  Google Hangout is an instant messaging and video conferencing application that facilitates conversations between two or more users.  The ‘On Air’ feature of the conferencing software allows for events to be streamed live on the Internet, recorded, and stored on the account owner’s YouTube channel.  

Multimedia Learning

The essences of multimedia learning is that students can learn more deeply when information is presented in text combined with pictures, rather than text alone.  For the purpose of this evaluation, text is defined as spoken text or printed text, and pictures as illustrations, graphics, or video. When designing multimedia learning environments that promote learning, it is important for designers to pay attention to how the text and pictures are presented to learners.  They must structure their design in a way that compliments how the brain processes formation.  In other words, how can we design learning environments and advances in digital technologies to augment our powerful minds.          

Google Docs

Feedback principle

The feedback principle in multimedia learning states that novice students learn better from explanatory feedback than corrective feedback (Johnson & Priest, 2014).  Feedback is described as explanatory when a brief explanation is offered to narrow the gap between current performance and desired performance.  Corrective feedback may be described as the process of informing a student that they completed a task correctly or incorrectly.  Therefore, it is more advantageous to student learning if educators engage their learners in explanatory feedback over corrective feedback, as it allows students to evaluate their learning, identify areas of improvement, and move closer towards mastery.  The use of Google Docs within GAFE allows educators to engage their learners in explanatory feedback opportunities.

Zsuzsanna_Voting Comment.png

(Figure 1)

Through the use of shared real-time collaborating, both student and instructor can engage in a live dialogue about the learners writing through the commenting option embedded in the tool.  Educators can leave an explanatory comment that will help the student bridge the gap between current performance and desired performance.  The learners can respond and acknowledge the feedback and either edit or continue the dialogue to see further clarity.  Commenting can work on either a real-time or delayed response.

The feedback principle is embedded in the larger concept of cognitive theory of multimedia learning (CTML), which states:

  1. Learners have two channels for processing information: auditory and visual channels
  2. Learners are limited to the amount of processing they can compete with each channel at any one time (Figure 2)
  3. Learners actively engage in the cognitive processes of selecting relevant information from the multimedia presentation, organizing the information  into coherent cognitive representations, and integrating the information with prior knowledge from long-term memory in order to achieve meaningful learning. (Mayer, 2014)    

Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning.jpg

(Figure 2)

Choosing a visual feedback method such as commenting (text) when the learner is already engaging in a task using the visual channel, like editing a text document, is not always beneficial to the learner.  When a learner is cognitively engaged using their visual channel, adding another task, also in the visual channel, may overload that channel and be detrimental to learning. The effectiveness of explanatory feedback needs to be considered alongside other multimedia learning principles such as the modality principle.  According to the modality principle, students learn more effectively when a learning task is presented in spoken format instead of written text.  Google Docs does not have a built in a way to offer explanatory feedback in spoken words, but it does have the option to add an application called Kaizena (Figure 3).

Zsuzsanna_Voting_recieving feedback.png

(Figure 3)

Kaizena allows the user to give feedback to another user using either audio or written text.  In accordance with the CTML theory, providing feedback as spoken text allows the person receiving the feedback to use both visual and verbal processing channels and avoid extraneous cognitive demands.  The use explanatory feedback in Google Docs, using both the spoken text and written text format, is consistent with the cognitive theory of multimedia learning, including feedback and modality principles.  Another example of integrating Kaizena with Google Docs can be found at the following link -


Google would benefit the education community greatly if it chose to include Kaizena as an integration tool in Google Docs without requiring users to select it as an add-on.  Also, Kaizena is only available as an add-on in the Chrome web browser.  It would be beneficial to have Kaizena available across all major browsers.  

Google Doc’s ability to communicate between instructor and learner, and between learners using comments and chat has its benefits but also its downfalls.

Zsuzsanna_Voting Chat.png

(Figure 4)

The split-attention principle of multimedia learning states, “Its important to avoid materials that require learners to split their attention between, and mentally integrate, multiple sources of information” (Ayres and Sweller, 2014).  When learners are forced to split their attention between writing a document and reading and responding to text messages in Google Doc's built-in chat feature, it places an additional load on the user's cognitive capabilities.  Subsequently, this additional burden is likely to have negative effects on the user’s ability to learn.  This is increasingly likely when using the chat feature in schools, as there is a high likelihood that students will move off topic quickly.  The school’s GAFE administrator can turn the chat feature on and off for various accounts and learning tasks as needed.  

Google Hangouts

As more educators from around the world seek personalised professional development opportunities that are relevant to their practice, they are taking advantages of video conferencing technologies to connect with their self-developed learning networks in synchronous ways.  Google Hangouts provides a robust platform to connect educators in live video chat where sessions can easily be recorded for analysis at a later date.  An example of the use of Google Hangouts for the specific purpose of facilitating professional development for educators is the Google + Community, Ed Tech Mentorship Network.  This community is an open network of educators in BC who offer monthly tutorials via video conference software.  Recordings of each tutorial are stored on the site’s YouTube channel for viewing and reviewing at later dates.  

Strengths of Multimedia Learning With Video

There are many reasons why using video in multimedia learning environments is beneficial for learning.  Authors of Multimedia Learning with Video state that recorded video allows viewers to review the content several times in order to allow adequate time for information to be committed to long-term memory (Derry, Sherin, and Sherin, 2014).

Due to the highly collaborative nature of Google Hangouts, the software permits up to  10 group users to conferencing at one time.  When educators are conferencing to collaborate and extend their practice, Google Hangouts becomes a very powerful learning tool.  The dialogue generated from such interactions, leads users to create new and share knowledge.  

Concerns and Possible Solutions

The design of internal processing systems makes it easy to become cognitively overloaded when engaging in complex learning environments such as video conferencing.  

The split-attention effect is described as the effect when one of the two processing channels, either visual or auditory, becomes overloaded.  The information being presented to that channel, say auditory, is not presented in an integrated way.  This causes the learner to expend additional cognitive energy to integrate the information from the two sources.  With respects to Google Hangouts, this might occur when a user may screen share a video demonstration of a web 2.0 tool, and then use the chat feature to further explain the use of the tool.  When this happens, the visual processing channel becomes cognitively overloaded, and the auditory channel remains underutilized.  Google Hangouts can use the audio channel to describe images that are being shown when screen sharing and help mitigate the effects of split-attention (Figure 5).


(Figure 5)

The use of video conference technologies such as Google Hangouts combine information using both processing channels, visual and auditory.  Therefore, it is important to consider the effect of video conferencing overloading both processing channels simultaneously.  This is known as dual-channel cognitive overload. This problem can be overcome by segmenting the video and allowing the video to be reviewed a number of times.  An important feature of Google Hangouts is the ‘Hangout On-Air.’  Hangouts On-Air allow users to record their video session and store them for later use.  The authors of multimedia learning with video emphasize the importance of creating video sessions in bite-sized chunks and allows users to review the chunks at will (Derry, Sherin & Sherin, 2014).

Hangouts Duel Channel Overload.png 


Multimedia learning in advanced computer based contexts such as Google Apps for Education have the tendency to cause users to experience increases in cognitive load demands to the point that make learning difficult or impossible.  Cognitive load complexities can be mitigated when instructional designers pay due attention to the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning including, split-attention, dual-channel, feedback, and modality principles.        


Ayres, P. & Sweller, J (2014). The Split-Attention Principle in Multimedia Learning.  In Mayer, R. E. (2014) The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning. doi:10.1075/idj.16.1.13pel

Derry, S. J., Sherin, M. G. & Sherin, B. L. (2014). Multimedia Learning with Video.  In Mayer, R. E. (2014) The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning. doi:10.1075/idj.16.1.13pel

Johnson, C. I. & Priest H. A. (2014). The Feedback Principle in Multimedia Learning.  In Mayer, R. E. (2014) The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning. doi:10.1075/idj.16.1.13pel

Mayer, R. (2014). The cambridge handbook of multimedia learning. Cambridge University Press: New York. doi:10.1075/idj.16.1.13pel