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Mireille Bétrancourt's home page


Curriculum Vitae


Research projects

How do we learn from multimedia documents? In other words, how can we build a mental model of a situation from studying mutually referring text, still graphics and animation? My research adresses this issue both from a basic perspective, in order to gain knowledge on cognitive processing of multimedia information, and from an applied perspective, in order to provide guidelines to multimedia instruction designers.

More recently, I have been developping a new line of research regarding on the effect of peer-tutoring on metacognitive activities and learning performance using computer-supported learning environments.

I am also interested in computer-supported learning in general, and I am participating in projects on the following topics: computer-supported collaborative learning, computer-supported writing-to-learn environments for vocational training, computer-supported

Main multimedia research topics:

Offprints and papers in progress regarding these topics are available on my publications page or on request (email Mireille Bétrancourt)

Some studies are conducted by master students from the Master in Learning and Teaching Technologies (MALTT)

Text-picture integration




Following research conducted by Sweller and his colleagues, this topic deals with the effect of the spatial display of text-picture information in terms of cognitive processing. Two experiments were carried out to compare three displays on a computer screen : "split" display (text and picture information displayed in separate areas on the screen), "integrated" display (text information close to the part of the picture to which it referred), and "pop-up" display (text information integrated in pop-up fields which appeared only under the userÕs action). In both experiments, the results showed that the integrated display and to a greater extent the pop-up display led to higher performances for an equal or lower learning time. Thus, these experiments reinforced the hypothesis that material where text and picture are integrated improves learning, especially if text information appears in pop-up fields. Results are discussed from a theoretical and a practical point of view.

Main publications on this topic:

  • Bétrancourt, M. & Bisseret, A. (1998). Integrating textual and pictorial information via pop-windows: an experimental study. Behavior and Information Technology 17 (5), 263-273.
  • Bétrancourt, M. & Caro, S. (1998). Intégrer des informations en escamots dans les textes techniques : quels effets sur les processus cognitifs ? in A. Tricot et J.F Rouet (eds.) Hypertextes et Hypermédias, Concevoir et utiliser les hypermédias: approches cognitives et ergonomiques. (pp. 157 - 173), Hermès : Paris
  • Bétrancourt, M. (1994). Effet de deux modalités d'intégration texte-figure dans les documents multimedia. Actes des Sixièmes Journées sur l'ingénierie de l'interaction Homme-Machine, IHM'94 (pp 219-224), Lille, France, 8-9 Décembre.
  • Bétrancourt, M. & Bisseret, A. (1993). Interaction texte-figure : effet de leur disposition spatiale relative sur l'apprentissage. in M. Baron, R. Gras & J-F. Nicaud (Eds), Environnements interactifs d'apprentissage avec ordinateur, Troisièmes journées EIAO de Cachan (pp 65-76), Paris : Eyrolles.

Sequential display

A text describing a spatial configuration conveys one possible clustering of elements into parts, and one possible ordering of these parts, chosen by the writer over many options. The chosen clustering and ordering help readers construct their representation of the described object. In contrast, a picture by itself does not convey the order in which it should be processed. We assume that displaying a picture sequentially, part by part, in a meaningful clustering, affect the mental representation elaborated from the graphics. This simple animation device can guide the construction of a mental model of the graphic as well as facilitate memory for it.

A first set of experiments was carried out at INRIA (France) under Prof. André Bisseret's supervision. In two experiments, a spatial configuration was displayed either simultaneously or sequentially, according to alternate clustering strategies. Results showed that participants in the sequential conditions were not faster in learning the picture than participants in the simultaneous condition. However, they recalled the picture using the clustering in which it had been displayed during learning. Moreover, participants were faster to recognize parts of the picture that were consistent with the learned clustering. Thus, the results suggest that the sequential display of a spatial configuration affects not only its immediate processing, but also the organization of the representation in memory. A third experiment replicated the same pattern of results with a more realistic material (a multimedia document explaining the functionning of the temperature control system in human body).

This issue was further investigated in a second set of experiments in collaboration with Prof. Barbara Tversky at Stanford University. In two experiments, learning from sequentially organized displays was faster from sequentially random displays. However, learning sequential displays was not significantly better than the static display. In all three experiments, order in recall in the sequential conditions followed the presentation order. In the third experiment, processing was faster and more accurate using the organization of the sequential displays. Thus, the way in which spatial information is temporally clustered and arrayed affects the organization of elements in the mental representation.

Sequential display was investigated in a real classroom setting in collaboration with Prof. Cécile Montarnal at the Grenoble Business School (ESCG).

Main publications on this topic:

  • Bétrancourt, M., Dillenbourg, P. & Montarnal, C. (2003). Computer Technologies in Powerful learning environments: The case of using animated and interactive graphics for teaching financial concepts. In E. De Corte, L. Verschaffel, N. Entwistle & J. van Merrienböer (eds.) Unravelling basic components and dimensions of powerful learning environments. (pp 143 - 157) Advances in Learning and Instruction Series, Pergamon: Elsevier Science Ltd. (pdf)
  • Bétrancourt, M., Bisseret, A. & Faure, A. (2000). Sequential display of pictures and its effect on mental representations. in J.-F. Rouet, J. J. Levonen and A. Biardeau (eds.), Multimedia learning: cognitive and instructional issues. (pp 112-118), EARLI Series "Advances in Learning and Instruction", Elsiever : The Netherlands.
  • Bétrancourt, M. (1999). Sequential display: an effective alternative to conventional animation. in Proceedings of the seventh International conference in human-computer interactions Interact’99 (pp 552-557), Edinburgh, 30 August - 3 September 99.

Computer animation

With recent technology advances, computers now offer animated graphic devices, which seem attractive and efficient to instructional designers. However, the research carried out so far failed to establish the advantages of using animated graphics over static ones on learning. Among several problems, animations seem to increase the learners' cognitive load, hence reducing the cognitive resources available for learning. Nevertheless, we believe that, beyond these shortcomings, animations offer unique opportunities to understand dynamic systems. To bypass these shortcomings, we need to deepen our understanding of the cognitive benefits that can be expected from animations in order to turn this understanding into design principles.

A review of the literature on computer animation in education, human-computer interaction and psychology has been conducted in collaboration with Prof. Barbara Tversky and Julie Bauer-Morrison at Stanford University. We first addressed the potential sources of misunderstanding between disciplines by considering the referential scope of key terms in our discussion, and especially the term animation itself. Then, the average findings of 17 studies were reported. On the basis of these findings, we reviewed the factors which could influence the users' cognitive processing and we proposed some guidelines for improving the design of computer animation.

The use of animations is not limited to user-system communication but is also often used in computer-supported collaborative learning. In these settings as well, the empirical studies have not confirmed the benefits that one could intuitively expect from the use of animations. This lack of positive results may be explained either in terms of cognitive load, as in user-system interactions, or may be used to the fact that peers use external representation to ground their mutual understanding. Our basic claim is that animation can effectively promote the construction of a mental model of dynamic systems since animation can depict the micro-steps of dynamic systems more easily than static graphics. However, the processing of animation induces a heavy perceptual and memory load. We assume that the cognitive benefits of animation can appear only if delivery features are designed in order to decrease this cognitive load by breaking down the continuous flow of animation in small chunks or by decreasing the information learners should maintain in working memory. In the first stage, this project will investigate three delivery features: the continuity of the information flow, the learner's control over the pace of animation and the permanence on the screen of previous stages of the animation. In the second stage, we will investigate whether the content of the animation should map the conceptual model or the events as they actually happen. Both the individual and collaborative setting will be used.

Research on this topic is currently founded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (2003 -2005) under the name CLEAP.

Main publications on this topic:

  • Bétrancourt, M. (2005). The animation and interactivity principles, in R. E. Mayer (ed.) Handbook of Multimedia. (pp 287-296), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ( (download a pre-published pdf version))
  • Bétrancourt, M. & Chassot, A. (2008). Making sense of animation: how do children explore multimedia instruction? in R. Lowe and W. Schnotz (eds.) Learning with animation (pp. 141-164), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (download a pre-published pdf version)
  • Bétrancourt, M., Bauer-Morrison, J. & Tversky, B. (2001). Les animations sont-elles vraiment plus efficaces ? Revue d’intelligence artificielle, 14 (1-2), 149-166.
  • Bétrancourt, M. & Tversky, B. (2000). Effect of computer animation on users’performance: a review. Le travail Humain, 63(4), 311-330.
  • Tversky, B. Bauer-Morrison, J., & Bétrancourt, M. (2002) Animation: Can it facilitate? International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 57, 247-262.


Peer-tutoring and Metacognitive activities in computer-supported learning

Computer learning environments have evolved from the “computer-based learning” approach, in which resources and activities were presented in a digital format, to the “computer support for learning” approach, in which the interactive and comput-ational potential of computers is used to support the learning process . The originality of the project lies on the integration of two theoretical perspectives in a complementary framework: the impact of metacognitive regulation on learning, and the potential role of traces of the learning activity in supporting the regulatory processes.
Up to now, research that has documented the important role of metacognition in learning has devoted much attention to the regulatory processes. In this view, conscious awareness is generally believed to be a necessary condition of metacognitive activity. However, the processes of regulation, such as monitoring and control, often lack conscious deliberation. We propose a method of confrontation aiming at supporting conscious awareness of regulation. It consists in confronting learners with the traces of another learner’s activity (individually or with a peer-tutoring approach) in order to explicit the procedures they used to realize the learning task and to improve them.

Research on this topic was founded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (2005 -2006).

Main publications on this topic:

  • Gagnière, L. Bétrancourt, M., Détienne F. & Chabert, G. (2004). Developing a reflective incentive to encourage metacognitive activities in a computer-supported collaborative learning environment, Proceedings of the first EARLI - SIG Meeting on metacognition, Amsterdam, July 2004.

Last updated in January 2008 by Mireille Bétrancourtt