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Coherence Analysis

April 4, 2013

Coherence Analysis

What is the Coherence Principle and its most important constraints/criteria?
The Coherence Principle is described by Clark and Mayer (2011) as the multimedia principle that the educator should avoid adding any material to an online presentation that does not support the instructional goal. In layman’s terms, ‘less is more’. When designing a multimedia presentation, one should seriously review all content and remove any superfluous material. One should avoid extra audio recording. Do not include background music as it may overload working memory, especially if the content is unfamiliar, delivered in a short time frame, and the learner cannot control the pacing of the material. Audio may help to direct attention, but there is currently no evidence of effectiveness for this purpose. Research shows that students score lower on assessments when using multimedia presentations that include non-relevant music compared to presentations that do not include this music (Moreno & Mayer, 2000). The multimedia designer should also avoid extra graphics. Graphics should be used to meet the instructional goal, and not for decorative purposes. Learners actually learn better through simpler visuals. Finally, the educator should avoid extra words and strive to be concise. Another reason to avoid these superfluous materials is that these materials may actually distract the learner and cause them to focus on inappropriate aspects of the lesson because they may not yet know what material is important within the lesson. Having less material helps the learner to focus on what the teacher wants the learner to learn!

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. Have you ever seen this principle violated or abused? Identify the violations, including citations as needed from your textbook.
One example of a successful attempt to apply the Coherence Principle was during a lecture I attending at the Convocation of our school year at the liberal arts college where I work as a librarian. The presenter was discussing the importance of beauty in education and creating knowledge. He discussed how beauty can help bridge the disciplines between the arts, humanities, sciences and social sciences. The presenter used an effective multimedia presentation of powerpoints that engaged a diverse audience of first year students, returning students and faculty. The slides were very simple. They were typically graphics that expanded or further clarified the verbal remarks. Visual words were rare and so the audience was able to fully utilize dual channels of information processing. I felt that the presentation effectively utilized Coherence and Redunancy principles (Clark and Mayer, 2011). I later learned that this professor revamped his presentation style and powerpoint slides after reading Presentation Zen (Reynolds, 2008). I became inspired to review my own presentations after that.

An example of ineffective attempts to apply the Coherence Principle was actually in another Boise State term I am taking this semester. In that course, one of the journal articles we were assigned to read was provided to us through a link to a general website. The website provided the journal article text as html embedded in a webpage that included banner advertisements along the side; these advertisements were actually blinking and animated! I found it absolutely impossible to read the article because of the distraction created by the animations; a clear violation of the Coherence principle. After some research, I found the same article in the BSU library database. I am confused as to why this professor didn’t simply include the permalink to the article in the library. I now understand why academic journal articles appear so “boring”! According to the Coherence principle, it is even more critical to adhere to this principle when material is unfamiliar which is often the case when reading journal articles (Clark & Mayer, 2011).

Discuss the relationship of the Coherence Principle to other Multimedia Learning Principles examined thus far in your readings.
The Coherence Principle relates to several of the principles in the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning. Specifically, I found direct relationships between the Coherence Principle and the Redundancy Principle and the Multimedia Principle. The Redundancy Principle states that learners learn better when words are put in spoken form so that the visual is limited to animation. This allows the learner to split the mental load necessary between the dual processing channels. The Coherence Principle builds upon the Redundancy Principle by stating that the words and animation within those two channels should be reduced to the essentials to meet the learning objectives. Superfluous verbal or visual material should be eliminated. The Coherence Principle relates to the Multimedia Principle as well. One lesson that has stuck with me from the Multimedia Principle chapter is that graphics should support learning, and should not be merely decorative in nature. Rather the educator should strive to make graphics relational, organizational, transformational or interpretive. This relates directly to the Coherence Principle of not using graphics for mere decoration.

Discuss the relationship of the Coherence Principle to fundamental theories of psychology as described by Clark & Mayer in your textbook.
Some educators advocate adding superfluous and decorative images to multimedia presentations to make them more ‘interesting’. This is based on the Arousal Theory of learning that hypothesizes that learners will become more interested because of the extra material, and therefore become more motivated to learn the material. This is not supported by evidence however. Rather, it goes against the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning which presupposes that the extraneous material will overload the information processing channels of the learner. If there is concern that the material is uninteresting, the educator must change the actual material to be more interesting or relevant to the learner, not simply add to the ‘decorations’ around it.

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 becoming more convinced as I teach information literacy that less is more across the board. I am currently trying to pare down what I teach first year students in their initial two information literacy classes. This is difficult because there are so many learning objectives I must meet in two short class sessions. But I also realize that cramming so much information simply overloads their processing and then they do not learn the material or critical research skills anyway. I am attempting to address this somewhat by working with faculty to spread out the instruction in 15 minute segments over several class periods rather than two long class sessions. Unfortunately I can only fit this into my schedule for a few courses, and not the 10 courses that I work with each Fall; this strategy is not scaleable. But it is one way to attempt to address this. Because of this course I am also planning to revamp my multimedia presentation materials to simply them and remove all superfluous material that does not help to meet educational objectives.

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2011). E-learning and the science of instruction : proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Mayer, R. E. (1999). Multimedia aids to problem-solving transfer. International Journal of Educational Research, 31, 611–623.

Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. E. (2000). A learner-centered approach to multimedia explanations: deriving instructional design principles from cognitive therory. Interactive Multimedia Journal of Computer-Enhanced Learning, 2(2), 2004–2007.

Reynolds, G. (2008). Presentation zen: simple ideas on presentation design and delivery. Berkeley, CA: New Riders Pub.


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