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Coherence Analysis

bullet-point What is the Coherence Principle and its most important constraints/criteria?

Chapter 8 of the text is on applications of the Coherence Principle. The coherence principle says, “you should avoid adding any material that does not support the instructional goal” (Clark & Mayer, 2010, p. 151). Each of the other Multimedia Learning Principles complement the Coherence Principle. The Coherence Principle comes from cognitive theory that asserts too much extraneous information in a presentation is detrimental to the learner. Just as we do not want to overwhelm the eyes or ears with too much simultaneous stimulus, we don’t want to even accent our presentations with cutesy images or novel sounds. The emphasis here is on accent, not on the actual content. We can still use relevant sound and words simultaneously, especially if  it is someone reading the words on the screen. What Mayer is discouraging are sound effects that one might add to a presentation because the writer assumes the additional sound will help place the content in the viewer’s memory. In contrast, this extra sound may be distracting and cause the viewer to miss something that s/he should have stored in the brain. Either content that should have been acquired was not, or what was acquired got jumbled in the storage process.

Another reason offering what may seem like random images or noises for the learner to process has a negative impact on learning is that the wrong prior knowledge may be triggered. I had never thought about there possibly being wrong prior knowledge. I routinely hear how we are supposed to connect the current lesson to prior knowledge so the new stuff has something to attach to. The idea being prior knowledge is the scaffold and the new stuff needs to find a niche in which to reside. How can there be bad prior knowledge? Could it be a picture is used to accent a lesson, but it does not actually have to be there for the lesson to be effective, however because it is there, the students’ attention is focused on something irrelevant to the topic they are supposed to learn. For example, what if a puppy is used to point out something and this causes the student to spend time thinking about how much they miss their puppy instead of the content the puppy has pointed out? I suppose in this case the wrong kind of prior knowledge could be triggered.

bullet-point  Describe and/or include one example of successful and one example of unsuccessful attempts to apply the Coherence Principle in actual instruction and training you have experienced…

Successful attempt:

I recently went through training where every visual instruction was accompanied by an audio version that went at a pace that could match the speed with which I was reading the words.

For an unsuccessful attempt:

In the past, I have worked with students of all ages in a scripted curriculum that was originally designed to be in books. It is now on a computer screen. They have not changed all of the formatting on the computer screen so that it can behave with the advantages of being on a computer screen. The curriculum is very poorly organized and sometimes they use images in locations to accent the lesson, but the images have nothing to do with the lesson. I’m thinking about one lesson that is about specific letters of the alphabet and in the middle of one section there is an artistic alphabet. I would say 9/10 students who do that lesson think the image is to be used to answer the question. It is not supposed to be used for the answer; it is not a part of the question. Students waste time trying to decipher the artwork instead of focusing on what the lesson is trying to teach them. This is an example of when a learning environment would be better served by having less clutter on the page.


Discuss the relationship of the Coherence Principle to other Multimedia Learning Principles examined thus far in your readings.

Both of this week’s articles, as well as our textbook, elaborate on Multimedia Leaning Principles (Clark & Mayer, 2010; Mayer, 1999; Moreno & Mayer, 2000). The articles have mini-explanations of some of the principles Clark and Mayer included in their book such as:  The Split-Attention Principle, The Modality Principle, The Redundancy Principle, the Spatial Contiguity Principle, and the Temporal Contiguity Principle.

The Split-Attention Principle: “Students learn better when the instructional material does not require them to split their attention between multiple sources of mutually referring information” (Moreno & Mayer, 2000). What this means is if there is an image and you want students to read things on the image, don’t have sound that is going to distract them. If you are going to have a vocal explanation, don’t clutter the image with written words that will compete with the audio file.

The Modality Principle: “Students learn better when the verbal information is presented auditorily as speech rather than visually as on-screen text both for concurrent and sequential presentations” (Moreno & Mayer, 2000). This is similar to the split-attention principle because it is talking about having the learners’ attention being overtaxed by too much information at once. The Coherence Principle stresses keeping out stuff that may interfere with the learning. Here it means that you want to let the student focus on one input at a time unless they can complement each other. Allow the students to hear words while they watch an animation the words are explaining. Don’t ask students to read words at the same time they should be watching an animation.

The Redundancy Principle: “Students learn better from animation and narration than from animation, narration, and text if the visual information is presented simultaneously to the verbal information” (Moreno & Mayer, 2000). Again this is strongly aligned with the Coherence Principle- the redundant information, the extra stuff that does not have to be presented, should not be included. It is overkill to have animation, narration, and text to complement the narration happening all at the same time. Like with the modality principle- allow the words to exist as auditory input instead of visual input.

The Spatial Contiguity Principle: “Students learn better when on-screen text and visual materials are physically integrated rather than separated” (Moreno & Mayer, 2000). If there is text to go with a visual image, put them close together. Don’t make the students have to track all over the page to find the key that goes with the chart or the labels to go with a diagram. Put items of the same context within easy visual range of each other. If the students have to shift their attention away from the image to go hunting for words, there is a chance they will forget what they are looking for while they are looking for the words. Likewise, if they have to search for the image to show what the words are explaining, they may forget what they are looking for or they may find the wrong image and therefore really mix up what they were supposed to figure out from the multimedia presentation.

The Temporal Contiguity Principle: “Students learn better when verbal and visual materials are temporally synchronized rather than separated in time”  (Moreno & Mayer, 2000). Line up the closed captioning to match the words as they are spoken. Align the animation and the narration so that the narration is actually about what the students are watching on the screen at the time they are watching it. (Note: having closed captioning and audio files running simultaneously violates the redundancy principle, but if you must have both happening, then do make sure they are aligned in time.)

bullet-pointDiscuss the relationship of the Coherence Principle to fundamental theories of psychology as described by Clark & Mayer in your textbook.

Theories relating to the Coherence Principle include dual coding theory, cognitive load theory, and constructivist learning theory.  Both Clark and Mayer ,and Moreno and Mayer elaborate on how learners have limited means of grasping information. We have essentially two routes by which information can enter our brains: through our ears and through our eyes. The dual coding theory emphasizes the idea that auditory and visual information get stored in different parts of memory. We will first gather the information through the eyes and ears where it is put into sensory memory- one spot for the eyes, another for the ears. We have two locations for our initial memories that we get through two separate input channels, one verbal, the other not, thus dual load. Ideally the transition into working memory will happen and eventually some may migrate into long term memory. The cognitive load theory concerns what makes it into working memory. In working memory, we organize the information. We take the words we saw and/or heard and blend it with the images we saw to make meaning of the information.

There is a limit on how much we can store in working memory, the cognitive load, and to cram as much as we can into working memory and ideally on to long term memory, we have to construct meaning from what information we acquire (Moreno & Mayer, 2000). The constructivist learning theory covers situations where students take ownership of the information and tailor it to their own understanding of what it means. When gathering information, we want students to be able to do more with it than merely recite it back to us. We want them to make connections between what we have taught them and their prior knowledge, what they knew before they met us.


What do you personally like or dislike about this principle? Present a coherent, informed opinion and explain why you hold this opinion. Are there any limitations or qualifications of the principle (caveats) which the authors did not consider and, if so, what are they?

I am actually torn by the Coherence Principle’s stress on having relatively naked courseware and presentations. I think, though, that one thing being stressed in the book, the video that was shown in the news post for week 11, and the two articles we were asked to read, is that the “less is more” principle applies to the actual content delivery, not the content housing. By this I mean the structure of the LMS may not fall into the realm of what is covered by the Coherence Principle. If it does, then I disagree with some of it based on personal experience.

Specifically I am talking about how courses are structured in the LMS. I will use Moodle as my example because that is the format with which I am most familiar. Before taking classes with Boise State, I took a few through a CA community college online that were about teaching online. Many of our assignments involved us creating lessons in our own Moodle shell. One thing my professor, Alexis, stressed was using graphics to accent our structure. We were continuously told to find legal images we can put with each lesson section. Now we built our courses differently than how they are done here. We actually put the content in the front page and included all of the important links for each topic section. Each topic section had its own unique image or link to a video that was about that topic. For example, in 513, the week 11 topic area which is organized by date, April 1 – April 8, has a blue icon image that matches all of the other icon images in the topic headers for the course. They are so generic, they fade into the background and do not distract from any of the content on the page. This is consistent with how Mayer would want images to be- seen but not noticed. The way I learned to set up courses before Boise State is that the video we found in this week’s news announcement would be what is in our topic area header. That video would be embedded into the front page in the area for this week’s topic. Ideally the embed code would be set so that the video does not automatically start when the page loads. Or perhaps an image of the video would load, but not the actual video, so that it does not take too long for the entire front page to load.

I think my point is that I was taught to spice up the front page of the course with graphics, images, embedded videos, or other things that were not pure text. It seems like the philosophy here at Boise State is to do linear text that is akin to webpages. I am not a fan of it because of the experience I’ve had with the Moodle book plug-in. I love the Moodle book plug-in, but I don’t think it has been upgraded to work seamlessly with Moodle 2.3. It is from the days of Moodle 1.9. The way the courses are structured at BSU are actually difficult for me to deal with because of my learning issues. Now that I’ve been doing this for about two years, I am used to how things are structured. I don’t like it, but I’ve figured out how to adapt.

I like having the added junk in the courses I take, especially if it helps me discern one topic from another. I am oblivious to the obvious. I overlook things that other people pick up on immediately. I have monocular double vision so I tend to gloss over lots of things unless I have to really focus and give it my attention. For people like me, having a large obnoxious image or video indicating what my topic is about actually helps ground me in my physical location in a course.

The coherence principle, however, has not emphasized course structures as much as it emphasizes the actual learning parts. It wants us to highly monitor what we present to learners at the time they are supposed to be learning content. In that respect, I am in complete agreement with the evidence Mayer has presented in his papers and the chapter.



Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2010). E-learning and the science of instruction, 3rd edition. Pfeiffer: San Francisco, CA.

Mayer, R. E. (1999). Multimedia aids to problem- solving transfer. International Journal of Education 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.