The Redundancy Principle in Elearning

A few years ago, I read a very interesting article regarding the redundancy principle as it relates to elearning. Basically, it made the claim that presenting text on screen coupled with audio speaking that same text has a negative effect on the learning process (it overloads the learner). I wish I had saved the article because it had a lot of great information and examples.

I never found the article again but I did run across another paper that addresses the same issue. The paper is titled “Cognitive Theory and the Design of Multimedia Instruction: An Example of the Two-Way Street Between Cognition and Instruction.” by Richard Mayer. It goes into great depth addressing the idea of Cognitive Theory. Cognitive theory offers three basic assumptions:

  1. Humans use two channels to process knowledge: auditory and visual.
  2. Each channel has a limited capacity.
  3. Meaningful learning occurs when both channels are engaged.

Knowing these three assumptions, here is where the redundancy principle comes into effect. Since we have limited learning capacity for each channel, it is very easy to overload one of them. How do we do that you ask? The answer is simple: by presenting text onscreen and having audio speak that same text. This technique overloads the visual learning channel and begins to impact the comprehension of knowledge.

Mayer states in his article:

“The rationale for presenting the same words in two formats is that students will be able to choose the format that better suits their learning style. If students learn better from spoken words, they can pay attention to the narration; if they learn better from printed words, they can pay attention to the on-screen text. In short, adding on-screen text to a narrated animation can be justified on the commonsense grounds that it accommodates individual learning styles better. However, the cognitive theory of multimedia learning suggests that the added on-screen text will compete with the animation for cognitive resources in the visual-pictorial channel, creating what Sweller(1999) calls a split-attention effect.”

Now that I’ve presented this principle, you may be asking “so what am I supposed to do with my audio?” That is an easy question to answer. Take all of the text that you would have presented onscreen and split it into two categories: on screen text and audio. As your audio is played, sync it with bullet points that appear on screen. Or you can play the audio while also presenting text that lends to the understanding of the audio.

The use of audio in elearning courses is a very powerful learning tool. And, used correctly, it enhances the text that is also being presented. Just be cautious not to fall into the trap of presenting both at the same time. Your learners will thank you for it.

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One Response to “The Redundancy Principle in Elearning”

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