Text. Pictures. Narration. Animation. What’s Best for Instruction?

When I teach my workshop on Modern Learning, I always ask my students the following question:

You are creating an eLearning course using text, graphics, animation and narration. You are showing an animation. What is best for learning:

  1. Animation plus text
  2. Animation plus narration
  3. Animation plus text and narration

Usually 50% or more of the students choose the last option. I think of this as the “the-more-the-better” choice. But it turns out that Choice (2) is correct. Why?

The key here is working memory. Working memory is critically important to learning. Our current model of working memory looks like this:

Working Memory

Let’s focus on the Phonological Loop and the Visuospatial Sketch Pad. The Phonological Loop is used for processing auditory input; the Visuospatial Sketch Pad is used for processing imagery. These systems are separate and complementary.

When you view an animation it is processed by the Visuospatial Sketch Pad. Narration is processed by the Phonological Loop. So far so good. But what happens if you also add text? It is also processed by the Phonological Loop causing cognitive overload on this part of working memory, which results in diminished learning.

So, animation with narration, but not with narration and text.


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