UC Santa Barbara’s Richard Mayer, a distinguished professor and applied psychologist, has been chosen as the 2018 recipient of the James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award.
“I am grateful for this humbling recognition of career achievement from my colleagues in the Association for Psychological Science (APS),” Mayer said.
The Cattell Fellow Award is the APS’s highest award designated to those who have demonstrated “a lifetime of outstanding contributions to applied psychological research.”
His previous recognitions include being ranked as the number-one most productive educational psychologist in the world for 1991-2001 by Contemporary Educational Psychology and being a recipient of the E.L. Thorndike Award for career achievement in educational psychology in the year 2000.
After receiving a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Michigan in 1973, Mayer focused his research on “how to help people learn in ways so they can take what they have learned and apply it to new situations,” he said.
“This is the classic issue of the transfer of learning, which has been at the heart of both education and psychology for more than 100 years,” Mayer said. “For the past 20 years I have been working on evidence-based ways to present instructional material to students, using both words and graphics.”
More recently, Mayer has doing research on how to design computer games for learning, or games that help people learn science concepts, math procedures and foreign languages or even improve their cognitive skills.
“Technology may offer some new venues for helping people learn for transfer, so I am enjoying seeing how we can use the features of computer technology, including laptops, games and virtual reality to improve student learning,” Mayer said.
As an applied educational psychologist, Mayer not only performs research, but also utilizes his findings in a practical manner during his lectures. He currently teaches courses on topics such as educational psychology, multimedia learning and cognitive psychology at UCSB.
“I try to use instructional design principles in my classes, [which include] always starting with a clear outline, using slides that have printed words placed next to the corresponding parts of a graphic and using slides that have a clear title and just a few key phrases,” Mayer said. “I try to use conversational language, provide opportunities for self-testing and clearly state the goal of the lesson.”
In addition, Mayer tries to write his slides according to instructional design principles similar to the way he writes textbooks. This includes “having a concise outline for each chapter along with corresponding headings, using italics or bold font to highlight key works, using conversational style such as saying “you” and “I” rather than formal style and placing text next to the corresponding part of an illustration rather than as a caption.”
Mayer has helped develop a set of 12 research-based principles for how to design multimedia instructional materials, which can be used in creating textbook chapters, online lessons, instructional videos and face-to-face slideshow lectures.
“I am committed to taking an evidence-based approach to education, in which we use instructional techniques that have been shown to be effective in research studies and are consistent with cognitive science theories of how people learn,” Mayer said.
For students who choose to use technology while studying, Mayer emphasizes the quality of studying habits over that of the technology used.
“I would say that technology per se does not improve learning. Instead, it is the learning strategies you use as a learner that can improve your learning,” he said. “It is important to use active learning strategies that help you process the material more deeply, such as summarizing the material in a chapter or lecture, drawing illustrations or outlines to represent the material, explaining material to yourself or others or testing yourself on the material.”
Another interesting dimension of his research is exploring how the use of social cues, such as the instructor’s voice, conversational style, polite speech, gestures, facial expression and eye gaze, can affect student learning. Mayer notes this as “an area that holds promise for helping students with special needs.”
“In particular, when students feel the instructor is working with them to help them learn, they try harder to make sense out of the material,” Mayer said.
He is currently working on identifying features of instruction that convey this sense of social partnership between instructor and student, even when a student is learning from a computer.
“Doing research on how people learn is important because learning is fundamental to human survival. The work I do on applying the science of learning to education is a team effort, and I appreciate the amazing environment in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at UCSB, including the wonderful colleagues, graduate students and undergraduate students I get to work with,” Mayer said. “I also appreciate my many teachers, mentors and research collaborators over the years. I am appreciative to be part of this great UCSB community.”