Coherence Principle

19 Jul

This This week we were to read Chapter 8 in Clark & Mayer’s E-learning and the Science of Instruction, Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning and answer the following seven questions. Overall, I found that the Coherence Principle really expounded on the previous four principles: Multimedia, Contiguity, Modality, and Redundancy.

  1. What is the Coherence Principle’s most important constraints/criteria? The Coherence Principle states that adding interesting music and sounds to a multimedia presentation that do not support the instructional goal will hurt students’ learning, especially students with lower abilities or limited knowledge of the subject. The extraneous sounds, graphics, and information that are often included in multimedia presentations take a mental toll on the learners, reducing their capacity to retain and transfer learning. One factor to keep in mind is that there is not enough research to determine the effect on long term instruction or for more advanced learners (Mayer, 1999; Moreno & Mayer, 2000; Clark & Mayer, 2011).
  2. Describe and/or include one example of successful attempts and one example of unsuccessful attempts to apply the Coherence Principle in actual instruction and training that you have experienced, especially as it might be implemented in PowerPoint-based instruction and training.  The one example of a successful application of the Coherence Principle that I can think of is when I had to deliver a presentation on the effective use of PowerPoint for the reading program at our school. It was a success because I designed the PowerPoint based on effective design principles I learned in one of my other Boise classes, so there was no extraneous information in the presentation. I can recall one presentation I was involved in that was an epic failure of following the Coherence Principle, specifically because I was limited to the number of slides my portion of the presentation could have yet still required to cover a substantial amount of detailed information. I used too many words on the slide, read the slide to the audience, then to add insult to injury – elaborated even more. Too many words and no sound or images!
  3. Have you ever seen this principle violated or abused? Identify the violations, including citations as needed from your textbook.  Over the years I have sat through many department of education presentations that abused all three coherence principles on a regular basis. However, more specifically Coherence Principle 1 – extraneous audio is violated the most with student presentations, similar to figure 8.2 (Clark & Mayer, 2011, p. 154) where they use all sorts of sounds that overwhelm the audience and detract from the presentation with too much noise. Recently, I went through a week long training on the Common Core. The principles that were violated were extraneous graphics and words. The presentations throughout the week were strewn with images that had nothing to do with the presentation, that got rather annoying as the time went on. As to the extraneous words, had they cut the redundant and anecdotal wording, the presentation would have taken only a few hours, instead of five days. I often think the designers are paid according to how long they can drag out a topic instead of the quality of information.
  4. Discuss the relationship of the Coherence Principle to other Multimedia Learning Principles examined thus far in your readings.  Overall, the one thing that comes to mind is that less is more. Students perform better when not overwhelmed by too much detailed information being presented at once and when there are not embedded distractions from the learning. The coherence principles provides the boundaries of how much is enough in applying the multimedia and contiguity principles which identify how to appropriately combine and place audio, graphics, and text. The modality principle, which stresses not overwhelming either the audio or video channel for learners, goes hand-in-hand with the coherence principle which limits the use of extra sounds, graphics, and words. In turn, the coherence principle is also strengthened by the redundancy principle (Clark & Mayer, 2011). So, as you can see the coherence is sort of the icing on the principle cake: it compliments the other four principles.
  5. Discuss the relationship of the Coherence Principle to fundamental theories of psychology as described by Clark & Mayer in your textbook.  The Coherence Principle has three extraneous components to avoid : 1 – audio, 2 – graphics, and 3 – words. People often assume that all the bells and whistles increase interest and generate excitement for the content. Sadly, what excess audio does is disrupt or overload the cognitive system (p. 156). The reasoning behind reducing unnecessary graphics is that they interfere with learning by causing distractions, disruption, or even through seduction (eliciting an inappropriate connection to the images). These effects are the opposite of desired learning outcomes (p. 161). Extraneous words can also interfere with the learning process. Evidence shows that adding all of the technical information or jargon reduces transfer (p. 168-170). For all three components, the cognitive system is disrupted and the learners are distracted from the learning goal when extraneous content is included.
  6. What do you personally like or dislike about this principle? Present a coherent, informed opinion and explain why you hold this opinion.  I like this principle because it limits the factors that I find most annoying in presentations: sound effects and background music, gratuitous images, and verbose slides. The coherence principle states that all the extraneous additions impede student learning. The sound effects and music added to “enhance” the presentation/learning ought to be limited because they disrupt the cognitive system (p. 156). Extra graphics actually reduces the students’ abilities to solve transfer problems (p. 162). Additionally, elaborate or realistic/graphic images are not necessary. The evidence supports simplistic over more detailed illustrations to boost student learning (pgs. 164-166). As for the wordy slides and screens, again less is more. Evidence from studies show that students demonstrate better learning from a more concise version than from a wordy version (pgs. 170-172).
  7. Are there any limitations or qualifications of the principle (caveats) which the authors did not consider and, if so, what are they?  Yes, there is. First, there was limited or no information on the effect of the Coherence Principle on expert learners such as those taking a refresher course. Clark and Mayer state several times throughout chapter nine that there is not enough evidence yet to determine the effect of the coherence principle with long term instruction (p. 172) and learners who are not novices (p. 173) . Also, the chapter did not differentiate between synchronous and asynchronous instruction or if the students were in control of the rate of the presentation.


Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2011). E-learning and the science of instruction, proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

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

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). Retrieved from



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