Continuing on from my previous post E-Learning and the Science of Instruction, this post aims to describe Clark and Mayer’s principles of design for e-learning.

The following principles are all evidence-based. The authors have engaged in research, and have reviewed the research of others to support the principles. Application of each of these principles has been shown to have fairly significant effects on learning.

Principle of Multimedia Design

  • Information is easier to understand when presented with graphics. However decorative graphics that do not have instructional value tend to detract from learning.

The Contiguity Principle

  • Place printed words near corresponding graphics
  • The effect of this is that connections between words and graphics are more clear, and the user has less need to search the page for meaning. As a result they are more able to attend to the content of the learning.
  • This principle is commonly violated in e-learning
    • Scrolling screens where visuals and related text end up becoming separated
    • Feedback is displayed on a separate screen from the exercise or practice question
    • Links leading to an onscreen reference cause a pop-up window which covers the related information on the initial screen
    • Directions to complete exercises are placed in a separate screen from the screen in which the directions are to be followed.

The Modality Principle

  • Where possible present words as speech rather than on-screen text
  • According to cognitive learning theory we have a visual and audial channel for receiving information. If words are delivered as audio this clarifies the task of the visual channel to interpret the picture.
  • I would add to this a kinesthetic channel. Much of the learning in a massage therapy class occurs kinesthetically.
  • In some cases it may be optimal to present text as a reference

The Redundancy Principle

  • Presenting words in both text and audio can impair learning
  • Redundant words may be useful when there is
    • No graphical representation
    • The pace of the presentation is slow
    • It’s difficult for learners to comprehend spoken word (e.g. a high proportion of non-native english speakers / Learning difficulties / Verbal material is long and complex or contains unfamiliar key words)

The Coherence Principle

  • Adding entertaining material (e.g. stories, music/background sounds, pictures) can reduce learning when the material is not strongly related to learning outcomes
  • The learner will often focus on and recall the entertaining material at the expense of other material

The Personalisation Principle

  • Use conversational rather than formal language wherever possible.
  • This is closer to natural human communication and is therefore easier to absorb
  • Virtual coaches (animated tutors) improve learning outcomes
    • No difference between realistic and cartoon images
    • Human voice seems to be more effective than artifical voice (limited evidence)
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