Multimedia learning opens new possibilities for incorporating visual design into educational materials. Scientists and educators disagree, however, about the role design plays in learning. In this study, researchers explored the effect of color and human-like design on students’ emotions and learning.

Over a hundred seventh-grade science students in Turkey took part in this study. They were divided into four classes, and each class engaged with the same content containing different design elements. One class received multimedia materials with a neutral design that employed grayscale colors and neutral expressions on human faces. The second group interacted with the same frames, but with colorful designs instead of grayscale. The researchers used warm colors for the main objects to highlight their importance. The third group saw the same colored frames with anthropomorphic design. Human-like faces were added to material objects, and the faces of objects and humans changed based on what they were doing. The final group’s material displayed the colorful, anthropomorphic design with additional sound effects.

The course unit lasted three weeks, with one session per week. Before the first session, students took a test that assessed their knowledge of the information covered in the unit. At the end of each session, the researchers measured students’ heart rates to gauge their levels of positive emotion and asked them to rate their mental effort on a scale of one to nine. After the last session, students re-took the opening test to measure their knowledge acquisition.

The results of the study showed that sound effects and anthropomorphic design impacted positive emotion while color did not; however, the use of color did lead to increased learning while human-like design failed to do so. Based on their findings, the researchers caution teachers to be aware, when designing learning materials, that liking and learning are not the same. At the same time, they note that the emotional appeal of learning materials may increase motivation and engagement for some students.

Uzun, A. M., & Yildirim, Z. (2018). Exploring the effect of using different levels of emotional design features in multimedia science learning. Computers and Education, 119, 112-128.

Image: by Ahmet Murat Uzun via ResearchGate