The Coherence Principle is a principle that is “commonly violated” – typically in an effort to make learning content more interesting (Clark & Mayer, 2011, p. 151) The Coherence Principle advises that additional information (in the form of audio, images, and text) should not be added to a multimedia presentation if the information does not support the learning objectives (Clark & Mayer, 2011). The Coherence Principle is closely tied to the other principles introduced in Clark and Mayer’s E-Learning and the Science of Instruction as well as fundamental theories on psychology and learning; and while I have seen the principle used inappropriately in computer-based trainings I feel that it is important to consider the learner and the learning objective when deciding on a course of action in its regard.
The multimedia principles presented in our text are all closely tied to one another or rather they lend themselves nicely to one another. For instance, the Coherence Principle has a clear relationship with the Contiguity Principle in regard to the focus of the learner on the learning objectives. Whereas the Contiguity Principle states that we should keep our images and text near each other so as to focus the learner on the learning objectives the Coherence Principle suggests that nothing should be included in a learning presentation that detracts learners from the learning objectives or that causes the learner “to focus on inappropriate aspects of the material” (Clark & Mayer, 2011; Mayer, 1999, p. 620). Both principles seek to focus the learner on the learning objectives.
Not only is the Coherence Principle tied to other research-based multimedia principles but it is also tied to fundamental theories of psychology, namely the cognitive theory. For instance, the cognitive theory tells us that learners are always striving to piece together meaningful information presented into a cohesive whole – deleting information that does not fit or is extraneous. Similarly, the Coherence Principle seeks to focus the information presented on the learning objectives by not including unnecessary information so as to aid in the construction of understanding. Additionally, the Coherence Principle strives to minimize the overload of the learner’s audio and visual channels by minimizing the amount of unnecessary information presented. This aligns with the cognitive theory on multimedia learning which states learners process information through two channels: an auditory channel and a visual channel and that each channel has limited capacity. Therefore, instructional design should consider the information presented does not lead to information overload – particularly of information that does not support the learning objectives (Moreno & Mayer, 2000).
At the beginning of each school year I must complete a series of CBTs (computer-based trainings) to include: the Anti-Terrorism Level 1 training and the Information Assurance training. These two trainings are at opposite ends of the spectrum in regard to implementing the Coherence Principle in a manner meant to assist in the learning process rather than disrupt the learning process.
The Anti-Terrorism Level 1 training is a 100+ page training presentation that takes a long time to complete. The presentation is mainly comprised of images and text with very little narration included in the training. While the information is very important it struggles to keep the trainee’s attention. In an effort to make the training more interesting the Instructional Designers chose to split the training screen so that half of the screen is used to present the learning content whereas the other half provides historical accounts of terrorist activities. While the historical accounts of terrorist activities are interesting they are not relevant to the learning objectives. The over-arching learning objective of the training is to inform the learner of terrorist situations that exist and teach the trainee to be mindful of his or her surroundings so as not to become a victim of terrorism. The historical accounts would be useful to the learning objective if they were tied to the content however they are not presented in such a manner. Instead the historical account is just an image (typically of destruction) with a caption and date. These pictorials tend to pull the learner away from the content to focus on historical accounts that are not addressed in the training’s final assessment.
The Information Assurance training is also a long training. The training environment is meant to resemble an office building. In each area of the office building the trainee is presented content that supports the overall theme of the training which is to ensure the safety and security of information on a government network. Within each area the learner is subjected to scenario-based sessions. After the scenario the learner is presented with additional information about the scenario. This information could be viewed as ‘seductive’ information but as it is designed to reinforce the learning objective (more so in real-world situations versus the training environment) its inclusion does not take away from the content but rather reinforces it.
I definitely feel that the Coherence Principle is important in a given set of learning circumstances. For instance, if the learner is being presented information that is new or confusing the presentation should seek to clarify the content so as to make it easier to understand. On the other hand, if the learner has prior understanding of the topic covered I feel that extraneous information can support of scaffold learning. I think in regard to the Coherence Principle and the lengths to which you adhere to its incorporation in your instructional presentations are dependent on your learner and your learning objectives.
Clark, R. C. & Mayer, R. E. (2001). E-learning and the science of instruction (3rd ed.). San
Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
Mayer, R. E. (1999). Multimedia aids to problem-solving transfer. International Journal of
Educational Research, 31(7), 611-623. (PDF file download).
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 8, 2013