Richard Mayer

Richard Mayer

Distinguished Professor

Research Area

Cognition, Perception, and Cognitive Neuroscience


Richard E. Mayer is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research interests are in applying the science of learning to education, with current projects on multimedia learning, computer-supported learning, and computer games for learning. His research is at the intersection of cognition, instruction, and technology, with a focus on how to help people learn in ways so they can transfer what they have learned to new situations. He served as President of Division 15 (Educational Psychology) of the American Psychological Association and Vice President of the American Educational Research Association for Division C (Learning and Instruction). He is the winner of the Thorndike Award for career achievement in educational psychology, the Scribner Award for outstanding research in learning and instruction, and the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Contribution of Applications of Psychology to Education and Training Award. He is ranked #1 as the most productive educational psychologist in the world in Contemporary Educational Psychology. He has served as Principal Investigator or co-PI on more than 30 grants, including recent grants from the Office of Naval Research to investigate how to improve the effectiveness of educational games, from the Institute of Education Sciences to investigate the effectiveness of features of an online tutoring system, and from the National Science Foundation to study students’ learning and problem-solving strategies. He is former editor of the Educational Psychologist and former co-editor of Instructional Science, and he serves on the editorial boards of 12 journals mainly in educational psychology. He is the author of more than 500 publications including 30 books, such as Learning as a Generative Activity (with L. Fiorella), Computer Games for Learning, Applying the Science of Learning, e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Fourth Edition (with R. Clark), Multimedia Learning: Second Edition, Learning and Instruction: Second Edition, Handbook of Research on Learning and Instruction: Second Edition (co-editor with P. Alexander) and the Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning: Second Edition (editor).


Dr. Mayer's main interest is in determining how people learn (i.e., the science of learning) and how to help people learn (i.e., the science of instruction). Dr. Mayer's research concerns the intersection of cognition, instruction, and technology, including: (1) multimedia learning, such as determining how people learn scientific explanations from computer-based animation, video, and narration; how illustrations affect how people learn from scientific text; or how people learn to solve problems from interactive simulations; (2) learning in computer-supported environments, such as how to improve learning with online pedagogical agents, with online intelligent tutoring systems, with mobile devices, and in virtual reality, and (3) computer games for learning, including determining factors that increase the effectiveness of educational games and examining whether playing computer games can cause improvements in cognitive and perceptual skills.

Dr. Mayer is concerned with how to present information in ways that help people understand, including how to use words and pictures to explain scientific and mathematical concepts. His research is motivated by the question, "How can we help people learn in ways that allow them to use what they have learned to solve new problems that they have never seen before?" Building on cognitive science theories of how people learn, he has developed a cognitive of theory of multimedia learning relevant to the design of on-line instruction. During the past two decades he and his colleagues have conducted over 100 experimental tests leading to 12 research-based principles for how to design on-line learning environments and computer-based games. He is now extending this work to the design of computer games for learning, and using social cues such as polite speech and gesture to increase learner motivation.

Current research grants from the Institute of Education Sciences, Office of Naval Research, and the National Science Foundation include studies investigating how people learn with on-line tutors in computer-based mathematics and science lessons, determining which features of educational games promote deep learning, determining the cognitive consequences of playing computer games, using eye-tracking methodology and cognitive neuroscience methodology to determine how people learn from multimedia lessons, and investigating how the gestures and voice of an on-screen pedagogical agent affect student learning from an online lesson. The unifying goal of these projects is to conduct methodologically rigorous studies that yield research-based principles of instructional design and contribute to cognitive science theories of how people learn.

Selected Publications

Mayer, R. E., & Alexander, P. A. (Eds.). (2017). Handbook of research on learning and instruction (2nd ed). New York: Routledge.

Clark, R. & Mayer, R. E. (2016). E-learning and the science of instruction (4th ed). San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Fiorella, L., & Mayer, R. E. (2015). Learning as a generative activity: Eight learning strategies that promote understanding. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mayer, R. E. (2014). Computer games for learning: An evidence-based approach. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Mayer, R. E. (Ed.) (2014). The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mayer, R. E. (2011). Applying the science of learning. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia learning (2nd ed). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mayer, R. E. (2008). Learning and Instruction (2nd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Fiorella, L., Hoogerheide, V., van Gog, T., & Mayer, R. E. (in press). It’s all a matter of perspective: Viewing first-person video modeling examples promotes learning of an assembly task. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108, 000-000.

Rawson, K., Stahovich, T. F., & Mayer, R. E. (in press). Homework and achievement: Using smartpen technology to find the connection. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108, 000-000.

Mayer, R. E., Christofferson, R., & Fiorella, L. (in press). Enhancing undergraduate success in biology through the biomentors program, American Biology Teacher, 00, 000-000.

McLaren, B. M., Adams, D., Mayer, R., Forlizzi, J. (2017). Decimal point: An educational game that benefits mathematics learning more than a conventional approach. International Journal of Game Learning, 7(1), 36-56.

Fiorella, L., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). Effects of observing the instructor draw diagrams on learning from multimedia messages. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108, 528-546.

Pilegard, C., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). Improving academic learning from computer-based narrative games.Contemporary Educational Psychology,44, 12-20.

Adams, D., Pilegard, C., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). Evaluating the cognitive consequences of playing Portal for a short duration. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 57, 173-195.

Leopold, C., & Mayer, R. E. (2015). An imagination effect in learning from scientific text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107, 47-63.

Mayer, R. E., & Lee, H. (2015). Visual aids to learning in a second language: Adding video to an audio lecture.Applied Cognitive Psychology, 29, 445-454.

Pedra, A., & Mayer, R. E., & Albertin, A. L. (2015). Role of interactivity in learning from engineering animations.Applied Cognitive Psychology, 29, 614-620.

Adams, D., McLaren, B. M., Durkin, K., & Mayer, R. E., Rittle-Johnson, B., Isotoni, S., & van Velsen, M. (2015). Delayed learning effects with erroneous examples: A study of learning decimals with a web-based tutor.International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education, 25, 520-542.

Fiorella, L., & Mayer, R. E. (2014). The role of explanations and expectations in learning by teaching. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 39, 75-85.

Schmeck, A., Mayer, R. E., Opfermann, M., Pfeiffer, V., & Leutner, D. (2014). Drawing pictures during learning from scientific text: Testing the generative drawing effect and the prognostic drawing effect. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 39, 275-286

Mayer, R. E., & Estrella, G. (2014). Benefits of emotional design in multimedia instruction. Learning and Instruction, 33, 12-18.

Mayer, R. E., Lee, H., & Peebles, A. (2014). Multimedia learning in a second language: A cognitive load perspective. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 28, 653-660.

O’Neil, H. F., Chung, G., Kerr, D., Vendlinski, T., Bushchang, R., & Mayer, R. E. (2014). Adding self-explanation prompts to an educational game. Computers in Human Behavior, 30, 23-28.

Ponce, H. R., & Mayer, R. E. (2014). Qualitatively different cognitive processing during online reading primed by different study activities. Computers in Human Behavior, 30, 121-130.

Fiorella, L., & Mayer, R. E. (2013). The relative benefits of learning by teaching and teaching expectancy. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 38, 281-288.

Ponce, H. R., Lopez, M. J., & Mayer, R. E. (2013). A computer-based spatial learning strategy approach that improves reading comprehension and writing. Educational Technology Research & Development, 61, 819-840.

Sung, R. E., & Mayer, R. E. (2013). Online multimedia learning with mobile devices and desktop computers: An experimental test of Clark’s methods-not-media hypothesis. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 639-647.

Issa, N., Mayer, R. E., Schuller, M., Wang, E., Shapiro, M., & DaRosa, D. A. (2013). Teaching for understanding in medical classrooms using multimedia design principles. Medical Education, 47, 388-396.

Adams, D. M., Mayer, R. E., MacNamara, A., Koening, A., & Wainess, R. (2012). Narrative games for learning: Testing the discovery and narrative hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104, 235-249.

Fiorella, L., & Mayer, R. E. (2012). Paper-based aids for learning with a computer-based game. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104, 1074-1082.

Johnson, C., & Mayer, R. E. (2012). An eye movement analysis of the spatial contiguity effect in multimedia learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 18, 178-191.

Mayer, R. E., & DaPra, S. (2012). An embodiment effect in computer-based learning with animated pedagogical agents. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 18, 239-252.

Miller, M. B. Donovan, C., Bennett, C. M., Aminoff, E. M., & Mayer, R. E. (2012). Individual differences in cognitive style and strategy predict similarities in patterns of brain activity between individuals. NeuroImage, 59, 83-89.

Canham, M. S., Wiley, J., & Mayer, R. E. (2012). When diversity training improves dyadic problem solving. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 26, 421-430.