Dr. Diane Hall
29 July 2018
Clark and Mayer (2008) explain the coherence principle as the elimination of extraneous material like sounds, graphics, and text (p. 151-2). Their analysis of this principle explains that interesting, yet irrelevant material is distracting and can actually hinder the learning process. Instead, the coherence principle recommends creating lessons that focus only on the key learning objectives and do not fall victim to Arousal Theory in an attempt to build interest through added multimedia elements.
In particular, the coherence principle aligns with the modality and redundancy principles. In chapters 6 and 7, Clark and Mayer explain that the modality and redundancy principles are about focusing learner attention without overloading visual and auditory channels. Overloading these channels with extra text or redundant narration causes extraneous cognitive processing, lessening learning potential. As such, the coherence principle expresses the direct need to eliminate those extraneous elements that create distraction and disruption.
In terms of fundamental theories of psychology, the coherence principle supports the Cognitive Theory of Learning, which explains that people process information using their visual and auditory channels. It avoids overloading these channels by avoiding distracting and irrelevant material that could focus learner attention elsewhere. In addition, the coherence principle rejects Arousal Theory, the idea that students learn more when “emotionally aroused” (p. 160). By eliminating those “attention grabbing” elements like background music or seductive details, the coherence principle urges instructors to keep instruction simple, following the well-known adage of “Less is More.”
Personally, I recognize the merit of coherence principle and its basic teachings; however, I am a bit at odds with its emphasis on making everything simple. As a middle school teacher, attention is something that my students struggle with, particularly in lecture-based classes. While I do not think that flashing lights and suspenseful music will make my students understand the difference between direct and indirect objects more, I do believe that attention grabbing features have their place in instruction. The coherence principle suggests the notion that “Less is More,” but perhaps a compromise between this principle and Arousal Theory, which it rejects, is instead “Everything in Moderation.”
No matter how often I incorporate multimedia into my lessons, my middle schoolers get really excited, especially when I use YouTube - a side effect, I am sad to say, of the walled garden that my school has put them in. That being said, my time exploring video platforms like YouTube has revealed some successful and unsuccessful usages of the coherence principle. This video in particular violates the principle by incorporating extraneous elements of all kinds. Between the text, sounds, graphics, and pace, students have a difficult time following along and relaying any information learned. While this video does hold their attention, it does so through Arousal Theory, and it violates the modality principle, as it offers on-screen text over narration.
Despite the many unsuccessful attempts found on YouTube, I have used several videos that properly utilize the coherence principle. I have found this video on setting to be quite effective, specifically because of its simple design and deliberate instructional choices. In this video, the narrator utilizes graphics, text, and narration to aid his instructional goal. As a video about a somewhat “boring” topic, it would have been easy for the narrator to aid “attention grabbing” elements; instead, he utilized the “Less is More” notion of the coherence principle and produced a clear, straightforward video focused on the learning goal at hand.
Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2008). E-learning and the science of instruction, 4th edition.
Pfeiffer: San Francisco, CA.