Coherence Analysis

What is the Coherence Principle and its most important constraints/criteria?
The coherence principle derives from the cognitive theory of multimedia and states that extraneous audio visual material places unnecessary demands on the limited resources of working memory and may thus negatively impact cognition (Clark & Mayer, 2011). It is a type of check and balance on the application of the contiguity and modality principles. The tenets of this principle may not be appropriate, however, in all learning environments including situated learning, edutainment, and with experienced learners (Clark & Mayer, 2011, p. 172-173).

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.
In previous instructional efforts (that I have experienced as the teacher), I learned by experience that PowerPoint slides need to summarize or otherwise simplify concepts and information presented verbally in class. In the Clark and Mayer text, the third part of the coherence principle states that excessively long narrations present extraneous wording which, according to the cognitive theory of multimedia, is likely to overload the limited capacity of learner’s working memory, especially in fast-paced learning environments or where learning materials are new or their presentation is not under the learner’s control (2011, p. 154, 166). I found this to especially be the case when teaching symbolism in the Book of Isaiah. I would often need to simplify quotations from scripture scholars or narrow in on particular phrases in cross-referenced passages so learner’s weren’t overloaded. Doing this would also prevent distractions and avoid seductive interference (priming off-target existing knowledge) from tangent topics (Clark & Mayer, 2011, p. 161).

One of my choices as a teacher, however, was abusive of the coherence principle. From time to time, in response to student requests to “spice up” PowerPoint presentations, I would occasionally change fonts, font size, and background colors between slides and then add cleverly-timed clipart animations at key points. My objective was to make the presentations more interesting and entertaining. Though I didn’t know it at the time, the premise for my choices was rooted in arousal theory, an approach that Clark and Mayer discredit through a presentation of evidence in favor of the cognitive theory of multimedia (2011, p. 156, 161). I did not have a way of measuring the effect of these spiced-up presentations, however, so I cannot say how they impacted my students’ cognitive processes, only that they violated the coherence principle.

Discuss the relationship of the Coherence Principle to other Multimedia Learning Principles examined thus far in your readings.
Clark and Mayer do an excellent job of weaving principles and implications of the cognitive theory of multimedia into their various presentations. Each of the principles is presented with a clear link(s) to the theory. I consider three principles presented in their book to be fundamental to their theory while all other principles presented arise from further examination of these theoretical principles. Those theoretical principles are dual channels, limited capacity, and active processing (Clark & Mayer, 2011, p. 35; Moreno & Mayer, 2000) and are what I usually refer to as the “principles” of the cognitive theory of multimedia. The applied principles that arise from these three include the contiguity principle, the modality principle, the redundancy principle, and the coherence principle. In making this distinction between the “principles” presented in the text, I would argue that the coherence principle, like the other applied-principles examined thus far in our readings, is another derivative, or application, of the theoretical principles mentioned above.

In addition to this similarity, the coherence principle, like the other applied principles of contiguity, modality, and redundancy, seems to be limited to a particular type of instructional objectives. I will discuss this in greater detail later in this paper. Finally, the coherence principle seems to be an extension of the concepts embodied by the redundancy principle, though the redundancy principle deals with the overload of both channels (visual and audio) simultaneously while the coherence principle can be related to the overload of either channel, individually. The coherence principle is an important safeguard against excessiveness when instructional designers are interested in applying the contiguity and modality principles in their work.

Discuss the relationship of the Coherence Principle to fundamental theories of psychology as described by Clark & Mayer in your textbook.
As mentioned above, I view the coherence principle as an extension, or application of the three theoretical principles that Clark and Mayer base their arguments upon: dual channels, limited capacity, and active processing. In particular, the limited capacity principle appears to be most essential to understanding coherence. According to Clark and Mayer and the cognitive theory of multimedia, a learner’s working memory can be quickly overloaded by excessive visual or auditory material, working adversely against any gains achieved by combining (contiguity and/or modality) such material in the first place (2011; Moreno & Mayer, 2000; Mayer, 1999). Not only can the excessive material make it harder for learners to actively process (relate to prior knowledge) the learning materials, but it can lead to distractions, disruptions, and tangent topics under certain circumstances (Clark & Mayer, 2011, p. 161).

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 personally like the simplicity that the coherence principle protects in a learning presentation. I also like the strong connection that this principle draws to the theoretical principles mentioned above. I don’t feel that this principle applies in all learning situations, however, and that the author’s discussion of limitations of the principle fails to address learning situations with motivational objectives.

I have learned from personal experience that it is easy to incorporate too much material or material that is overly complex into teaching materials. I am especially prone to favor high resolution photography that has a striking, attention-grabbing effect. The coherence principle doesn’t prevent the use of such material, it prevents the overuse of such material, especially when use of the material would distract from learning objectives or learner concentration (Mayer, 1999). In this regard, the coherence principle is a safeguard for instructional designers.

I don’t feel that the coherence principle or the cognitive theory of multimedia are universally applicable in all learning settings. As a former religious educator, my instructional objectives were not always cognitive (or not strictly cognitive, in the traditional sense of the word). I didn’t administer tests and wasn’t as interested in active processing that lead to measurable cognition as I was in creating an environment where mind and emotion could connect. My objective most of the time was that learners would reach a level of feeling that would motivate them to consider their personal values and beliefs and react accordingly in their private, spiritual pursuits. Factual information and concepts like symbolism and imagery were tools that bolstered the process, but were rarely measured. In such a learning environment, I feel that the cognitive theory of multimedia is more limited in its usefulness. I also feel that the coherence principle’s safeguards against distraction and emotional tangents may have actually been inappropriate at certain times.

Works Cited

Clark, R. & 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 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Mayer, R. E. (1999). Multimedia aids to problem-solving transfer. International Journal of Educational Research, 31(7), 611-623.

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, 2012 from

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