Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

A generative theory of textbook design: Using annotated illustrations to foster meaningful learning of science text


In three experiments, college students read a text explaining how lightning works and then took problem-solving transfer tests. Some students (integrated group) also viewed illustrations depicting the major stages in the formation of lightning that (a) were placed adjacent to corresponding text paragraphs and (b) contained annotations repeating the verbal cause-and-effect information from the text. Other students (separated group) viewed the same illustrations (a) on a separate page and (b) without annotations, after they had finished reading the text. The integrated group generated approximately 50% more creative solutions on transfer problems than the separated group, and this pattern was stronger for students who lacked experience in meteorology than for high-experience students. The positive effects of integrated illustrations depended on incorporating annotations (i.e., captions and labels) into the illustrations rather than placing illustrations close to corresponding paragraphs. Results were interpreted in light of a generative theory of multimedia learning which posits that meaningful learning requires constructing connections between visual and verbal representations of a system.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Clark, J.M., & Paivio, A. (1991). Dual coding theory and education.Educational Psychology Review, 3, 149–210.

  2. Fleming, M., & Levie, W.H. (1993).Instructional message design: Principles from the behavioral and cognitive sciences (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Educational Technology Publications.

  3. Houghton, H.A., & Willows, D.M. (Eds.). (1987).The psychology of illustration: Vol. 2, Instructional issues. New York: Springer-Verlag.

  4. Levin, J.R. (1989). A transfer-approproate-processing perspective of pictures in prose. In H. Mandl & J.R. Levin (Eds.),Knowledge acquisition from text and pictures (pp. 83–100). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

  5. Levin, J.R., & Mayer, R.E. (1993). Understanding illustrations in text. In B.K. Britton, A. Woodward, & M. Binkley (Eds.).Learning from textbooks: Theory and practice (pp. 95–114). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

  6. Mandl, H., & Levin, J.R. (Eds.). (1989).Knowledge acquisition from text and pictures. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

  7. Mayer, R.E. (1984). Aids to prose comprehension.Educational Psychologist, 19, 30–42.

  8. Mayer, R.E. (1989a). Models for understanding.Review of Educational Research, 59, 43–64.

  9. Mayer, R.E. (1989b). Systematic thinking fostered by illustrations in scientific text.Journal of Educational Psychology, 81, 240–246.

  10. Mayer, R.E. (1993a). Comprehension of graphics in text: An overview.Learning and Instruction, 3, 239–246.

  11. Mayer, R.E. (1993b). Illustrations that instruct. In R. Glaser (Ed.),Advances in instructional psychology, Volume 5 (pp. 253–284). Hillsdale, JH: Erlbaum.

  12. Mayer, R.E. (1993c). Problem-solving principles. In M. Fleming & W.H. Levie (Eds.),Instructional message design: Principles from the behavioral and cognitive sciences. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

  13. Mayer, R.E., & Gallini, J.K. (1990). When is an illustration worth ten thousand words?Journal of educational Psychology, 82, 715–726.

  14. Paivio, A. (1986).Mental representations: A dual coding approach. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

  15. Schnotz, W. (1993). On the relation between dual coding and mental models in graphics comprehension.Learning and Instruction, 3, 247–249.

  16. Schnotz, W., & Kulhavy, R. (Eds.). (in press).Comprehension of graphics, Oxford, England: Pergamon.

  17. Willows, D.M., & Houghton, H.A. (Eds.). (1987).The psychology of illustration: Vol. 1: Basic research. New York: Springer-Verlag.

  18. Wittrock, M.C. (1974). Learning as a generative activity.Educational Psychologist, 11, 87–95.

  19. Wittrock, M.C. (1989). Generative processes of comprehension.Educational Psychologist, 24, 345–376.

  20. Woodward, A. (1993). Do illustrations serve an instructional purpose in U.S. textbooks? In B.K. Britton, A. Woodward, & M. Binkley (Eds.).Learning from textbooks: Theory and practice (pp. 115–134). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

  21. World Book Encyclopedia. (1992). Chicago: World Book, Inc.

Download references

Author information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Mayer, R.E., Steinhoff, K., Bower, G. et al. A generative theory of textbook design: Using annotated illustrations to foster meaningful learning of science text. ETR&D 43, 31–41 (1995). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02300480

Download citation


  • College Student
  • Posit
  • Generative Theory
  • Educational Technology
  • Separate Group