How Whiteboard Animation keeps your attention

The cognitive psychologist Richard E. Mayer did a test on 3 groups of students being taught the same material. One group were taught using only hearing. The second group were taught using only sight and the third group were taught using hearing and sight. Every time the experiment was run the hearing and sight had more accurate recall with better resolution lasting longer. Multisensory had better problem solving by 50-75%. He went on to suggest that students learn better from animation and narration than from animation and on-screen text.

The professor of psychology, Dr Richard Wiseman has written 10 books, has been on TV, in radio programs and in the papers. He created 2 videosone of himself talking and another a Whiteboard Animation version using the same audio. He did a test, one group being shown the video of him talking, the other group being shown the whiteboard animation version. When questioned after the videos there was a 15% higher recall by those who had watched the whiteboard animation version.

“Anyone involved in education or research will know that is absolutely massive. Normally you have to work incredibly hard to get 5, maybe 10 percent increase in any kind of behaviour measure like that. Simply by animation you’re seeing a 15 percent increase” (Ref. 3)

This is termed the Multimedia Principle of the Principles of Multimedia Learning that states that people learn better from words and pictures than from words alone.

Holding the audience’s attention

He went on to say:

“We know that in order to remember something, you need to attend to it in the first place. If you haven’t got people’s attention, you’re not going to get information in. I think what the animations do is hold that attention. They hold it in an incredibly engaging way.” (Ref. 3)

Getting the audience’s attention through fun

He explained another way that the audience’s attention is held:

“You do anything better when you’re in a good mood… creativity, productivity, learning… One thing [whiteboard animation] does is make me laugh, and it puts me in a good mood… Suddenly, it’s not so much work. It only makes them have a better time, more importantly it means the information is just going in.” (Ref. 3)

How the brain is rewarded

TruScribe has done research into why the whiteboard animation is engaging. They stimulate viewer anticipation. Whilst the hand is drawing the image, you’re trying to anticipate what the final image is going to be. Jonathan Surdo of TruScribe states:

“When the final form is revealed the brain experiences SURPRISE and releases dopamine. *pop* Experiencing the unexpected increases the levels of dopamine in the brain, which is a pleasure chemical and in turn increases the engagement of the viewer.” (Ref. 3)

A good and well-known example of whiteboard animation is Ken Robinson’s speech on Changing Education Paradigms.

Benedict Hickson of CZA Studios


Source & Reference Material:

  1. Whiteboard Stories, What is video scribing and why is it important?
  2. Sparkol: Psychology behind whiteboard videos – how they increase learning by 15% by Gabriel Smy
  3. VideoScribe: to 75% by Naomi Dunn
  4. E-Learning Heroes: Multimedia Learning Principles for Course Designers #126 by David Anderson