So, what is "multimedia"? To start with...

  • Multi = "many"

  • Media = plural of "medium"

  • Medium = a channel of communication

So, with those definitions you have something like, "a means of communicating information using multiple channels". In fact, the dictionary definition is, "using, involving, or encompassing several media". This means that multimedia can be as simple as speaking and using your hands at the same time for emphasis. It doesn't have to involve computers. It just has to involve more than one channel of communicating your intent. The Internet is multimedia. Movies are multimedia. Books can be multimedia if they contain text and pictures.

Expanding on the definition above, for our purposes we can define multimedia as: The combined use of several media -- such as text, graphics, audio, video, and animation -- in a single application for educational or entertainment purposes.

According to some definitions, multimedia describes an integrated presentation which combines at least three different elements in a single integrated delivery system. Generally, the user has the ability to browse, navigate, and analyze the materials to some degree. Another commonly used term is Interactive Multimedia. How does this differ? Well, in general interactive multimedia is multimedia that allows the user to interact with the information being presented as well as control what order and how it will be presented. In this way, the user is able to navigate through information at their own pace and based on their own personal interests.

There are three common classifications of interactivity:

  • A linear presentation is one in which the author decides the sequence and manner in which information is presented. The user controls only the pace.

  • A branching program is one in which the user has some control over the sequence of presentation by selecting from a group of choices such as from a main menu. The author still maintains the control of deciding what to include in the choices available at any point in the program.

  • Hypermedia - Hypermedia can be thought of as a web of interrelated information in which the user is in almost complete control of the pace and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the sequence and content of the presentation. Links provide for random access of information.

Usually the terms multimedia and interactive multimedia are used interchangeably.

Educational Multimedia

Since the mid-90s, there have been many changes in creating, delivering, and using multimedia. First, software and hardware technologies have innovated methods and processes for creating multimedia. Multimedia producers more easily create multimedia with graphical user interface tools and advanced hardware. Second, high speed Internet made the multimedia delivery faster even in real time interaction between users and media (or web) servers. Many people can experience various multimedia contents without problems such as network disconnection. Third, there were also innovations in technologies for using multimedia. After the emergence of iPhone, iPod, and iPad, many high-tech manufacturers and service providers pay more attention on multimedia device technologies that can support different purposes of software. Now, many people use their smart phones, tablet PCs, and other new portable multimedia devices.

Multimedia provides multiple channels of information to be delivered to users. It can also be very motivating for students, and can help them achieve understanding in new ways. The use of sound, photographs and video enables the user to observe real world situations in ways that are not possible with more conventional methods of instruction. There is also a high level of interaction. Most educational multimedia programs expect students to make choices about what they want to do next and the way in which they wish to work through the material. Thus they are not passive but active learners. In addition, multimedia is theoretically able to address different learning strategies - allowing students to learn at their own pace.

Multimedia Components

Let's look closer at some of the components that are commonly used in multimedia:


Text often shapes the content of a multimedia title. On the other hand, large amounts of text data can be a sign of a "converted book", not a true multimedia design. Technically speaking a text medium is easy to handle and store. As a rule text passages should be brief and the font should be easy to read on the computer screen.

Common file formats for text data are .txt, .rtf, .doc, and .docx.


Graphics shape the design of a multimedia title, adding visual appeal and expressing concepts that text alone cannot easily communicate. Graphics is a more complex medium than text. They are more difficult to create, and you have to deal with a number of colors and screen resolutions. In addition, graphics files tend to be quite large. A single color picture for the computer screen can easily fill up several standard floppy disks. However, applications from the entertainment side of the business have established high quality graphics and photo realistic images as basic elements of all multimedia applications.

Common file formats for graphics are .bmp, .tif, .gif, and .jpg.


Sound can refer to speech, natural or synthesized sound effects, or music. You can use spoken words to complement written text, and music and sound effects to create a mood, add emphasis or realism, or signal interactivity. Technically, dealing with sound is comparable to dealing with graphics. With recorded (digitized) sound you have to deal with sound quality and storage capacity. Music can mean "recorded songs", or the computer can imitate instruments and produce synthesized music.

Common file formats for digitized sound are .wav, .aiff, .m4a, mp3, aac, and .wma.


Digitized video offers a level of authenticity similar to television or movies - with some performance limitations. With video you can show tasks and events that words and graphics are inadequate to explain. Producing high quality video clips is not a easy job. Although there have been improvements in hardware performance for video playback, you must have a clear idea of the performance of the typical users’ devices when you create a multimedia application that includes video clips. Usually you must compromise between the video screen size, video resolution, number of colors used, length of the clip, and file format and sizes.

Common digital video file formats are .mov, .avi, .mpg, mp4, wmv, mts, and flv.


Animation involves graphics that move in some way With animation you can clarify things or create special effects. Digitized video has replaced animation for certain things, but in many cases animations are easier to produce and "lighter" for the PC's performance. Technically speaking, animation can mean either external "video like" media files, or they can be closely integrated (programmed) into the application itself.

Common animation file formats include .flc, .fli, and .swf. Digital video and .gif file formats are also used for animation content.


One final component of multimedia is the amount of control afforded to the user. At a minimum the user should be able to start and stop the program. In more advanced programs there may be a multitude of navigation options available to take users through the program.

The various multimedia elements used in multimedia can be produced by different application programs, such as

  • Graphics/Drawing programs

  • Animation programs

  • Word Processing

  • Image capture - digital cameras, scanners

  • Digital Video editing

  • Sound recording and editing programs.

Because of the use of all of these different types of elements, developing a multimedia program generally requires a multitude of skills:

  • Instructional design skills

  • Graphic design skills

  • Audio production skills

  • Video production skills

  • Writing skills

  • Programming skills

Although the process involves many skills, small-scale multimedia products can be created by individuals through the use of an authoring program.


Now that we've looked at Multimedia, the next question is, "What is authoring?". Simply put, multimedia authoring is the process of designing and developing a multimedia product. The author brings all of the different multimedia components together into one program and provides structure, navigation, and interactivity for the user. For educational multimedia it is also important to create an effective instructional environment.

The authoring process can be used to develop many different types of products, including:

  • Educational applications

  • Computer-based training

  • Reference systems

  • Simulations

  • Virtual environments

  • Entertainment programs and games

  • Interactive information kiosks

  • Retail CD-ROMs

  • Training systems

Multimedia applications can be coded directly in a programming language (like C++ or Pascal). These languages are easily understood by a computer's processor and allow programmers to communicate more directly with a computer. They can then make the computer perform complex tasks with a minimum of fuss. The problem is that the programming languages are very complex themselves, and require the programmer to become familiar with an entire new language of strange words and actions.

To simplify the process for those of you who are not fluent in writing programming code, there are applications that will mediate between the designer and the complex programming code. These intervening applications are called authoring programs. An authoring program brings all of the various multimedia elements together into one program, and additionally allows the developer to add control and navigation. In other words, the designer talks to the authoring software, and the authoring software talks to the computer using a language the computer can understand. Authoring programs can be used to create full multimedia productions, and most of these programs have point-and-click features to simplify the development process.

To demonstrate this concept, let's consider a simple authoring program. One simple type of authoring program is a web page editor. These types of programs allow you to combine text, pictures, sounds, and videos all on one page that can then be displayed on the World Wide Web for others to view. In the early days of the Web all web pages had to be created using a programming language called HTML (HyperText Markup Language). If you wanted to create a web page you had to be familiar with this language. With the advent of web editors such as Netscape Composer, Dreamweaver, and FrontPage almost anyone can now create web pages using an extremely simplified interface (often called a WYSIWYG interface). Pages created in these programs are still composed of HTML, it's just that the web editing program generates the HTML for you and keeps it hidden behind the user interface. When a web browser attempts to display a page it still looks for the HTML code - that is the only way it knows what to do.

Popular authoring programs include Adobe Flash, Articulate Studio, Articulate Storyline, Lectora Inspire, Adobe Captivate, TechSmith Camtasia, and Microsoft PowerPoint. For selecting a program among these, you may consider a lot of features of these programs. They might be easiness, interactivity, flexibility, accessibility, and graphical capability.

Flash is the most flexible program because it supports programming for content development. This means designers can control the interaction between users and contents in a detailed level. Recently, however, some designers think Flash is too heavy for running on portable devices, such as smart phones and tablet PCs.

Articulate Studio is easy to use and supports graphical capability well, but it is not perfect for a content that has complex interactivity, quiz functions, needs to meet compliance, such as Section 508, SCORM, AICC, and TinCan. For more information on these compliance, you can check followings.

Note. You should log in LinkedIn Learning at Virginia Tech ( with your VT email address before accessing resources on AICC and TinCan above.

Articulate Storyline provides high interactivity and graphical capability and supports mobile devices and multiple platforms. It is a flexible authoring program, but not as much as Flash.

Lectora Inspire is a good program for a content that is required to meet compliance since it supports SCORM, AICC, TinCan, and Section 508 well, but more expensive than the other programs.

Captivate is a good program for supporting simulation, high interactions, complex branching, and publication in various formats. However, it is relatively not easy to use.

Camtasia supports developing quizzes, embedding PowerPoint files, creating forms well. On the other, it is not good for contents that use high interactions, complex branching, or animations.

Lastly, PowerPoint can be considered a simple authoring program, although it is more commonly referred to as a presentation program. Keep in mind that there is no dividing line between where a presentation program ends and where a multimedia authoring tool starts. PowerPoint is easy to learn and supports simple animation and embedding multimedia.

Note. If you want to purchase one of the authoring programs, cost might be a criterion. It is available to buy some of the programs at a lower price than marketplaces through The Software Distribution Office at Virginia Tech ( You may find purchasing details on Microsoft Office(including PowerPoint), Adobe Studio(including Flash), Adobe Dreamweaver, and Camtasia on the web page.


Once a computer-based multimedia program has been created, there are many ways to distribute the final product. The distribution method you choose should be based on the content and who will be using the application. Common distribution methods include:

CD-ROM - Many multimedia applications are so large that CD-ROM is the most efficient way to distribute the files needed. Using CD-ROM allows you to include large amounts of data, and provides quick access to the material.

DVD - DVD stands for "Digital Versatile Disc". It is a next generation Compact Disc format that provides increased storage capacity and performance, especially for video and multimedia applications. A DVD is the same size as a Compact Disc but holds up to 25 times more data and is up to 9 times faster. This increased capacity allows DVD to store high-quality video as well as higher-than-CD-quality audio. The most basic DVD will hold over 4.7 G Bytes.

World Wide Web - Using the Web you can easily reach a large audience with your content. You can include large amounts of data, but the access time can vary due to varying connection speeds. Because of this, it is harder to include data-intensive multimedia, such as video and sound files.

Computer - Many authoring programs will generate a self-contained file that includes all of the elements in your program, and can be run on any computer. Formats of the files might be HTML, SWF, AVI, or other formats that authoring programs can support for exporting contents.