Multimedia presentations are often used for learning in our world today. They can be very powerful and provide learners with great understanding of concepts. A question that comes to mind is; does adding embellishments such as sound and graphics to spruce up the presentation have an impact on the retention and comprehension of the subject matter? According to the Coherence Principle, the added embellishments have a negative effect on the learning outcome.
The embellishments that are being referred to in this principle are pictures, sound effects, and/or background music added to a narrated presentation. Based on research, the working memory becomes overloaded when there is too much to piece together. As human beings, we try to find connections between the narration and images, sounds, or music that are being presented. With narration going on simultaneously, the learner will experience a heavy cognitive load which will lead to the learner not being able to recall as much of the information as he/she would without all the embellishments. This is especially true when presenting unfamiliar material, when going through the material quickly, or when the learner cannot control the rate of the presentation (Clark & Mayer, 2008, p. 154).
Mayer’s researched the use of multimedia aids in problem solving transfer. This research concluded that “Students are better able to integrate verbal and visual representation when they receive both verbal and visual materials rather than when they receive only verbal material” (Mayer, 1999). If the visual material is not presented at the same time, students construct a mental mode that is insufficient. This study was done with scientific explanations with visual aids help students form a mental model for the process or steps of the material being learned.
There is a definite relationship between the Coherence Principle and other multimedia learning theories. The Cognitive Theory states that learners are more likely to understand the material if they are actively engaged. For example, learners are engaged in relevant cognitive processing when they focus on the relevant lesson material, mentally organize the material into a coherent cognitive representation, and relate the material to their previous knowledge (Clark & Mayer, 2008, p. 57). When students are not overstimulated through cognitive overload when presented with new information, they will retain the concept and perform better on tests. Presentations that have simple drawings and relevant graphics will help students from becoming cognitively overloaded. The contiguity principle explains that information needs to be presented in close proximity to each other in order for the relationship of the words and pictures to make sense to the learner (Clark & Mayer, 2008, p. 89). To ensure that the learner is gaining knowledge without being cognitive overloaded, the coherence and contiguity principle work together.
Students learn better when extraneous material is excluded from multimedia lessons (Moreno & Mayer, 2000). Since I started learning more about educational technology in my classes, I have noticed that I have been more critical of the PowerPoint presentations I use with my students as well as the presentations that are shared with me. A few weeks ago I used a presentation to teach my students fractions that I had created in a previous class that aligned with the Coherence Principle and at the end of the lesson several of my students commented on how fractions finally made sense to them. I have also had an experience where there extraneous material in a multimedia presentation that was used for training. I had to view a training video that was created by one of my co-workers earlier this year. During the presentation, there were a lot of decorative images that did not seem to go with the topic. There were also several animated images that kept repeating the same thing over and over again that also did not go with the topic. I became fixated on the images and did not pay attention to the topic that was trying to be addressed.
From my experience, I have found that the Coherence Principle does make a difference in learning. However, there is still more research that should be conducted with this topic in regards to how this applies to younger students since these studies were conducted with college students.
Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2008). E-learning and the science of instruction, 2nd edition.Pfeiffer: San Francisco, CA.
Mayer, R. E. (1999). Multimedia aids to problem-solving transfer. International Journal of Educational Research, 31(7), 611-623.
Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. E. (2000). A learner-centered approach to multimedia explanations: Deriving instructional design principles from cognitive theory. Interactive Multimedia Electronic Journal of Computer-Enhanced Learning, 2(2), 2004-07. Retrieved April 1, 2014 from http://imej.wfu.edu/articles/2000/2/05/index.asp