EDTECH 513 – Coherence Principle Analysis

Compose a brief analysis of the Coherence Principle, answering the following questions:

  1. What is the Coherence Principle and its most important constraints/criteria?
  2. 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, especially as it might be implemented in PowerPoint-based instruction and training.
  3. Have you ever seen this principle violated or abused? Identify the violations, including citations as needed from your textbook.
  4. Discuss the relationship of the Coherence Principle to other Multimedia Learning Principles examined thus far in your readings.
  5. Discuss the relationship of the Coherence Principle to fundamental theories of psychology as described by Clark & Mayer in your textbook.
  6. What do you personally like or dislike about this principle? Present a coherent, informed opinion and explain why you hold this opinion.
  7. Are there any limitations or qualifications of the principle (caveats) which the authors did not consider and, if so, what are they?

Coherence Principle in its most basic form is refraining from using or removing “decorative” images and sounds as it impedes, not enhances the learning process (Clark & Mayer, 2008). Clark and Mayer specifically state to avoid e-Lessons with extraneous audio, avoid e-Lessons with extraneous graphics and avoid e-Lessons with extraneous words. Focusing the text, graphics and audio on the learning objectives and using no more than needed, is the main takeaway for instructional designers.

In my full-time work, I convert materials for students with disabilities, specifically those who have low vision, learning disabilities, ADHD and those who are blind. Sometimes, these students need PowerPoint converted into a different format. For my blind student, this means that they need a textual representation of everything that is graphical. There ways to make pictures accessible to blind users such as (a) adding alternative text that describes the important information contained in image or (b) turning the graphic into a tactile form where the student can physically interact with the image. Before doing either option, however, conversion teams first asked the question of “is this graphic a decorative image?” If the answer is yes, then we do not convert the image. Decorative images are not helpful to those who are blind as they are not adding additional insight or information in regards to other elements on the page or screen. “Eye candy” supposedly offered a better experience for those who are sighted. This directly mimics the arousal theory, which states “this increase in arousal results in a greater level of attention so that more meticulous process by the learner resulting in improved performance on tests of retention and transfer” (Moreno & Mayer, 2000 p. 118). However, Clark and Mayer (2008) go to great lengths to argue that the arousal theory does not hold in scientific experiments and that coherence theory is more scientifically backed. Using their research, we can conclude that decorative images are not helpful for any student, sighted or not.

The most consistent violation of this principle is in the use of extraneous words that do not support the learning outcomes. In e-learning environments, (particularly learning management systems), professors tend to distribute electronic reading materials that are offered as supplementary text. On my higher education campus, based on a quarter’s worth of research, we can anticipate that if the professor is using an LMS, they are likely to distribute 35 files which equates to about 600 pages of content. The three reasons why extraneous text may be added are as follows: for interest, for elaboration and for technical depth (Clark & Mayer, 2008). Text, graphics, animation and narration must each be mapped to the learning outcome in order for it to NOT be considered extraneous. By including these “fluffy” elements, professors are flooding their student’s dual channels with extraneous information.

Based on my understanding of the principles covered thus far, coherence principle is the easiest one to communicate to instructors. Essentially can be summarized as “remove the fluff because it is negatively impacts your students”. By first removing all extraneous text graphics and audio, it will be easier to implement principles of continuity and modality and redundancy. If I was only able to communicate one principle to instructors based on this theory, I would communicate the coherence principle. Less is simply more!

Arousal theory claims that more interesting pieces of text, audio, and graphics enhances learning. This directly contradicts the cognitive theory of multimedia. Arousal theory says “more is better” and the coherence principle from cognitive theory of multimedia says “the brain can only process so much, keep it simple”. In scientific research, Clark and Mayer (2008) highlighted more evidence that supports cognitive theory compared to arousal theory.

My background is working with students with disabilities. While I struggle with certain pieces of the coherence principle, my main dislike stems from the cognitive theory of multimedia learning which assumes (1) that humans have a channel for processing visual/pictorial representations and a separate channel for processing auditory/verbal representations (2) each channel has a limited capacity and (3) active learning occurs when learner engages in cognitive processing (Moreno & Mayer, 2002). This theory does not take into account the reality that not everyone has both channels or perhaps utilizes both channels equally. For example, someone who is blind cannot see images indicating that perhaps their channel for visual/pictorial representations is either nonexistent or is used differently than how the supporters of cognitive theory of multimedia learning assume. Considering 10 to 12% of students on college campus have a disability, perpetuating this theory without additional research focusing specifically on disability could lead to some grandiose assumptions and practices that are more hurtful than helpful.

As admitted by the authors, Clark and Mayer (2008), identify that more research is needed regarding the coherence principle, especially in the following situations:

  • Longer term instruction such as authentic training programs versus controlled lab environments
  • Perhaps in educational games and simulations
  • Novice learners versus individuals who have a sufficient background knowledge

I would reiterate that more research is needed with the cognitive theory of multimedia learning regarding individuals disabilities. My expertise tells me that this is an area that could impact the recommendations provided by Clark and Mayer.

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2008). E-learning and the science of instruction, 2nd edition. Pfeiffer: San Francisco, CA.

Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. E. (2000). A coherence effect in multimedia learning: The case for minimizing irrelevant sounds in the design of multimedia instructional messages. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(1), 117-125.

Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. E. (2002). Animation as an aid to multimedia learning. Educational Psychology Review. 14(1). 87-99.