Review of Clark and Mayer's Personalization Principle

Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Clark and Mayer (2011) introduce the personalization principle as it pertains to e-learning in chapter 9 of the text. According to the authors, the personalization principle includes using a conversational style opposed to a more formal one, employing on-screen tutors that they refer to as pedagogical agents, and giving the author a visible presence (Clark & Mayer, 2011). In the chapter, Clark and Mayer (2001) review the empirical evidence, including new research since the previous edition, that maintains their assertion that e-learning texts that present content using a conversational rather than formal style can lead to increased student learning. They further add that spoken text should be that of a friendly, human voice, speaking politely in first- or second-person language (Clark & Mayer, 2011). Psychological reasons given for this aspect of the personalization principle include social cues that effect deeper learning (Clark & Mayer, 2011).

The second component of the personalization principle is employing on-screen tutors, or as they call them, pedagogical agents, to promote student learning (Clark & Mayer, 2011). Pedagogical agents guide learners through an e-learning module, for example, by providing explanations and feedback (Clark & Mayer, 2011). While the evidence on pedagogical agents is still fairly new, the initial research seems to suggest that learning can be increased when pedagogical agents are used to interact with the learner (Clark & Mayer, 2011). Additionally, Clark and Mayer (2011) share that while there were little differences in studies between those with realistic agents and those with cartoon-like agents, evidence demonstrates that the agents must sound real.

The final component of the personalization principle that Clark and Mayer (2011) present is giving the author a visible presence. Again, research is still in the preliminary phase, but so far it suggests that making the author visible can result in deeper student engagement (Clark & Mayer, 2011). Clark and Mayer (2011) suggest that this is because the author is more relatable to the student when providing personal insights and details. The authors conclude the chapter with a call for additional research in the area of personalization, including when it may actually detract from deeper engagement and learning or what types of learners the personalization principle might benefit most (Clark & Mayer, 2011).

After reading the chapter, I began to search out what others said about the personalization principle, and the most interesting information came from one of the authors, but in another text. Clark and Feldon (2005) present that research on the use of agents was mixed, and they concluded at the time that using pedagogical agents does not actually increase student learning. The apparent contradiction may be that Clark and Mayer (2011) based their supposition on more recent evidence. However, the likely reason is, as Clark and Feldon (2005) surmise, “These results provide evidence that in multimedia studies of agents, measured differences in student learning may not be due to the agent by itself or any increased motivation or attention caused by the agent, but rather due to the pedagogical method provided by the agent” (p. 13). This is an extremely important point to consider when using pedagogical agents in our e-learning designs. Additionally, this chapter is especially influential as we prepare our Instructional Design Projects in that we must be intentional to include some personalization in the content of the design in an effort to engage the learner into the process.

While, Clark and Mayer (2011) never mention connectivsim, I was reminded of it because of the social aspect that the personalization principle suggests. Duke, Harper, and Johnston (2013) assert that connectivism is a form of social learning. When utilizing the pedagogical agent of the personalization principle, one is learning through interactions with a human-like coach (Clark & Mayer, 2011). Likewise, just as the personalization principle attempts to attribute human attributes to e-learning environments, Siemens (n.d.) proposes that in connectivism “learning can reside in non-human appliances” (par. 5). There is a subtle relationship there that I believe needs to be explored.

Finally, the personalization principle and it use of conversational language, on-screen learning coaches, and visible authors has huge implications for me as a primary-level teacher. Students in my class would be engaged by e-learning experiences that utilized the personalization principle. Conversational and narrative language is what they use when they write, so it would likely lead to more understanding and make learning content more enjoyable. Further, they will certainly be engaged by on-screen characters, animated or human, guiding them through a lesson. Again, as I look for and design e-learning lessons, I must be mindful of employing those that utilize the personalization principle.


Clark, R. E., & Feldon, D. F. (2005). Five common but questionable principles of multimedia learning. In R. E. Mayer (Ed.), Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning (pp. 97–116). Retrieved from

Clark, R.C., & Mayer, R. E. (2011). E-learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Wiley & Sons.  

Duke, B., Harper, G., & Johnston, M. (2013). Connectivism as a digital age learning theory. The International HETL Review, Special Issue 2013, 4-13. Retrieved from HETLReview2013SpecialIssueArticle1.pdf

Siemens, G. (n.d.). About—Connectivism [Webpage]. Retreived from


  1. Ashely:

    Thank you for your summary and reflection on personalization principle within online learning.


    Young, S., & Bruce, M. A. (2011). Classroom community and student engagement in online courses.

    Journal of Online Teaching and Learning; June Vol. 7, No. 22,

    1. Christie, I enjoyed watching your response to my post. I appreciated your comment about students' feedback regarding personalized principles, and found it interesting that you reported that research showed that using personalization principles can increase course learning satisfaction. Thanks for your response.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. In her summary of Chapter 9 of Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer’s (2011) book entitled, E-learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning, Ashley Fort (2015) highlighted several key points pertaining to the personalization principle. According to Fort (2015) (as cited by Clark & Mayer, 2011) this principle hypothesizes that when on-screen instructors present material using a conversational style voice versus a more formal one, the level of learning tends to increase (para. 1). In addition, Fort (2015) addressed the second component of Clark and Mayer’s (2011) personalization principle that suggest that visual interaction between the instructor and the student also tends to lead to greater levels of learning. Despite these interesting premises, Fort (2015) aptly pointed out that much of the research suggesting increased levels of learning is only in the embryonic stages of development. As a result, Clark and Mayer (2011) called for greater research in this area.

    As part of her personal reflection, Fort (2015) acknowledged the lack of depth in the area of research pertaining to the personalization principle. Moreover, Fort (2015) noted that Clark and Mayer (2011) did not discuss research addressing concepts embedded in the personalization principle such as connectivism (para. 5). According to Fort (2015), the personalization principle appeared to be rooted in social learning theory; thus, “connectivism is a form of social learning” (para. 5). Hence, Fort (2015) contends that the learning that takes place through human interaction is an area worthy of additional study in conjunction with other underlying concepts of the personalization principle. Fort’s (2015) view appears to be aligned with work published by renowned social-psychologist Albert Bandura (2001) and author of a study entitled, Social Cognitive Theory: An Agentic Perspective. For instance, Bandura (2001) viewed people as “purposive beings” (p. 5). As a result, Bandura (2001) contends that humans tend to make things happen in their environment rather than allow the environment to simply act upon them; hence, “situational forces activate their subpersonal structures that generate solutions” (p. 5). In other words, there are other motivational and cognitive forces that must be addressed if a more complete picture of learning is to ever come into being. Like Fort (2015), Bandura (2001) called for a more holistic approach to studying learning and rejected the idea of researching only isolated components of learning that did not incorporate basic cognitive factors that influence learning. According to Bandura (2001) (as cited by Carlson 1997), “These motivational and other self-regulative factors that govern the manner and level of personal engagement in prescribed activities are simply taken for granted in cognitive science rather than included in causal structures” (p. 5). Like Fort (2015), Bandura (2001) also calls for more inclusive studies that incorporate the cognitive factors already addressed in numerous learning theories to be incorporated into studies regarding learning and instructional design.


    Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Annual review of psychology, 52(1), 1-26. Retrieved from

    Fort, A. (2015, June 10). Review of Clark and Mayer's Personalization Principle [blog post]. Retrieved from


Back to Top