Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning: Dual-Coding Theory

Written by Jori Marshall
February 18, 2020 • 3 minute read

The idea that students can learn from multiple mediums of representation in classrooms outside of words alone is not a new concept. Pictures and words strategically combined can create an enriching learning experience. Multimedia learning plays an important role in active learning and retention and can present itself in various forms in the classroom, form text; spoken, and written words, to pictures; graphics, diagrams, illustrations, etc.

Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (CTML) can allow your students to work easily with verbal and non-verbal representations of complex systems. Research has shown that people learn more deeply from words and pictures than from words alone. A study produced in the Medical Education journal analyzing instructional medical animations concluded that “many unrealised opportunities exist for improving the efficacy of animations as learning tools in medical education; instructors can look to effective examples to select or design animations that incorporate the established principles of CTML. According to Roxana Morena of the University of Mexico and Richard E. Meyer of UC Santa Barbara, providing a verbal explanation of how a system works alongside an animation won’t ensure that students will understand the explanation unless-research based principles, such as CTML, are applied.

According to Meyer, author of “Multimedia Learning”, there are three main assumptions of learning as it relates to CTML. This is where Dual-Coding, sometimes referred to as Dual-Channel, comes into play.

  1. There are two separate channels (auditory and visual) for processing information.
  2. Each channel has a limited capacity.
  3. Learning is an active process of filtering, selecting, organizing, and integrating information based upon prior knowledge

The first assumption refers to dual-coding and is used to explain human behavior in the context of learning. The arrangement and organization of text that accompany images creates meaning. Here are a few tips to dual coding:

  • Be careful with the use of photographs. This can create too much background detail that can obscure the main points. Make sure the main point is evident as students can focus on the wrong material.
  • Do not use decorative images, like clipart, that can divert away from the main points.
  • Try not to use videos. Like the use of photographs, this can create too much information that can distract students from the main points.

Are you or someone you know finding success with using Dual-Coding Theory in your classrooms? If so, we’d love to hear from you! Email to share your story. 

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  • Implications of Designing Instructional Video Using Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (Ibrahim, 2012, Critical Questions in Education)
  • Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning
  • Multimedia learning (Mayer, 2002, Psychology of Learning & Motivation)