Readings: E-Learning: Chapter 8


Chapter 8—Applying the Coherence Principle: Adding Material Can Hurt Learning (pages 150–176)

Read the Chapter. Write your response by Thursday. Reply to at least 2 people’s posts. :heart: at least 3 that seem interesting, provocative, that you agree with, or otherwise wish to acknowledge. At least one of your responses should be written after Thursday when everyone has had a chance to post. Ideally, you’ll participate on at least three different days.

From the last few chapters, it should be evident why extraneous material should be removed, but building good instruction following all of the principles can be difficult.

  1. Provide some advice on how someone building instruction can follow the coherence principle without making the lesson boring or over-simplified.

  2. Please provide an example of material where either the coherence principle has been effectively applied OR where the coherence principle has not been applied. Explain your interpretation and why you drew those conclusions.

What to Look for @KayB @Larene_R

  • Cognitive Theory vs Arousal Theory: differing perspectives on the use of audio, graphics, visuals, and words

  • Extraneous “anything” can hinder a learner. Only implement what is necessary and avoid sensory overload.

  • Following the Coherence Principle should not result in dull and boring e-learnings.

  • Review Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction and consider how you might use the Coherence Principle when creating these events in an e-learning. (Do not reply to this. This is to help us start thinking of how to integrate multiple theories into a singular e-learning/ online training module.)


Someone making a lesson should first look at the learner type they are teaching. Are the learners “at risk learners” or are they learners that process information at a “lower capacity”? For these types of learners, instruction should be built with the materials making sense to the reader. The quality of material is much more important than the quantity. If graphics were to be used, they need to be relevant to the lesson with concise descriptions. NO FLUFF

Below is an example with the coherence principle applied. It shows relevant graphic that can be easily processed by learners. It also helps make sense of the butterfly life cycle with support from the text and graphics. Nothing on this example is too distracting for a learning and the real pictures makes it more interesting for the learner.

image from Gale Allbritton

Below is an example where the coherence principle has not been applied. There are many extraneous materials on this page that add quantity to the picture but not quality to the learning objective of the butterfly life cycle. The overload of material distracts the learner from the real objective of the life cycle.

image from Gale Allbritton

Therefore, I would use my first example in my science lesson following the research that suggested that simple visuals support learners better.


C & M’s advice on how to design quality instruction by avoiding material that can hurt learning has giving me inside on how to choose media for re-teaching concepts that students in the inclusion classroom have not been able to master.

The best advice I can provide for someone designing instruction is to omit unnecessary words, graphics, and audio; but use simple visuals relevant to the key instructional goal; which will still captivate the interest of the learner.

The authors’ research findings showed that by keeping materials in a multimedia lesson simple and to the point, students were able to retain more information and perform better on transfer.

In summary extraneous media interferes with learning because it is distracting.

Let me provide you with two examples to analyze to see if the coherence principle has been effectively applied or not.

  1. C & M cautioned instructional designers to ask themselves if adding additional words are really needed to achieve the instructional objective; otherwise the extra words need to be removed.

  2. The instruction objective for the 4th grade lesson reads as follow: students will be able to identify characteristics of parallel and series circuits.

(In a series circuit there is only one path to the source of energy, but in a parallel circuit there are two or more paths to the source of energy or battery)

  1. Which one of the two examples below effectively applies the coherence principle?

      Example A

      Example B

If extraneous media, in this case words, interfere with learning and the lesson must be focus on the primary goal.

Then the elementary school children in 4th grade need to have a simple graphic with minimal distractions.

So, I chose to keep it simple and just added “2 paths” to example A


Even when C&M said that there is not a lot of research on how individual characteristics of learners are related to the effectiveness of the coherence principle; I believe lessons using simple graphics like the one you provided help students focus their attention without distracting them from the objective of the lesson.

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Thanks for the great example. I would also say ( and I am joking) to consider learners who have poor eyesight and wear glasses/ contact lenses. LOL. I am having a hard time understanding everything in the second photo. But, it is obvious to a blind bat like myself that the first image is straight forward and the other photo appears to have diagram and some shrubs. :slightly_smiling:


Example A was definitely the clear winner of the coherence principle however, whatever those two extra drawings were at the bottom of the page kept distracting me. I understood that the light bulb photo was the most clear, but then those box figures under neath the main photo had me 1) second guessing myself and 2) wondering what they were. LOL. I am glad your final answer omitted the additional and unnecessary graphics.

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I know that as a learner, I appreciate it when the presenter gives me the “gist” of the topic without a lot of irrelevant material. I don’t like having to try and decide what I am supposed to focus on during lessons. My advice would be to make presentations short and sweet, with only the most important details listed. If graphics are to be used then I would recommend using them with little other items on the page so that the attention can be focused on what the graphic is trying to present. I like to give my students handouts of important diagrams needed during science class. I usually have students glue diagrams into their notebook so that they can use them during discussions to refer back to and write quick notes on if they need it. My main piece of advice would be to take into account the audience for who the presentation is being designed. Older students may like items that would be completely distracting to younger students. I teach 5th grade and I’ve learned that having music or strange sound effects in presentation doesn’t do anything to properly engage my students in the lesson and only serves to get them off task and unfocused… Several times I’ve had my students working on an assignment and the radio playing in the background at the same time. I am almost always have one or two students who are incapable focusing on their work because they want to sing or dance to the song playing, so I turn the music off. C&M 2011, page 156 quoted Dewey to say “When things have to be made interesting, it is because interest itself is wanting…The thing, the object, is no more interesting than it was before”. I can appreciate and agree with this quote because I’ve taught lessons that I thought would be great while I was planning it, but when I got into the lesson I realized that I added something into it that sidetracked my students and didn’t create the effect I desired. I can take content and dress it up with all the bells and whistles, but in the end the content is still the same, unchanged or perhaps even harmed.

My first example is of a video of a presentation that someone made to show the difference between effective verses ineffective Power Point slides.

A second example of a when the coherence principle has not been applied is in my video below. Its not meant to be taken seriously because it is making fun of how some classes can be. The students in the video are completely board and the teacher is trying to spice his class/presentation up with bad jokes, dramatic pauses, quotes, and flashy page transitions. If you have time, watch the whole video is kinda funny, but also kind of sad because a lot of classes are designed like the one depicted in the video.


According to the coherence principle suggest avoiding any words, graphics, or sound that do not forward the instructional goals of the training. Some people believe that adding these element increases the motivation of the learner, but evidence supports that fact that leaving these extra elements out actually improves the ability of the trainee to learn the materials.

But, how do you make a lesson entertaining and interesting then? Turning to Keller’s ACRS model is a great way to add motivation to a work without straining the processing system. Asking interesting questions or presenting little known facts are a great way to get the learners attention without adding too much glitter to the screen. Another way to increase the motivation is to make the learning relevant to the student’s life or work. If the student knows that he or she has to use the information imminently, they are more likely to be motived and stay interested in the training. Using case studies as an instructional strategy can help build the student’s motivation because it helps the students gain confidence in what they are learning. Lastly, giving meaningful feedback in a timely manner can help increase the overall satisfaction of the learners. These strategies are in line with the Keller ACRS model and can increase the motivation of students without overloading the working memory.

This lesson on quadratic equations is a positive example of using the coherence principle. They do not add any additional graphic or sound in the recording. The part of the equation that is being discussed gets high lighted in yellow. I think this video is simple and straightforward.


As potential ID’ers, having a good understanding of “less is more” is important when developing online training. This concept is important to understand in context and graphics and audio. In my work experience the individuals that usually create the training programs are the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). This often leads to instruction with too much depth and content to meet the training objectives. It’s valid to always refer back to the training objectives while creating the training content. Failure to create training based on objectives often lends the training to have too much extraneous information that easily overloads a novice learner (C&M).

As C&M stated not all graphics and audio hinders e-learning but excessive or over use can interfere with the learner’s ability to comprehend the presented material. When I think about this, I think about very technical training where there is a need for detailed graphics, audio, and other presented material. Therefore combining all the material into one slide or page of the training might negatively increase the cognitive demands and splitting them up might make more sense. Have the description of the system so the learner can acquire knowledge about the general workings of that system. The next page might include an interactive graphic displaying how this system operates. While the last section includes audio narration tying all the concepts together.

I see this concept all the time. A very simple example is when looking through a power point presentation and someone put in the stock sounds when you click the mouse. I get so annoyed with the sounds, I lose focus on the material that is being presented.

Less is more – I like it!


All lesson should have a clearly defined learning goal or target. I think the best way to determine if you are remaining true to the coherence principle is to ask yourself, “Does this graphic, text, or audio align with my lesson’s ultimate goal?” If the answer is yes, then the graphic/text/audio is not only engaging but also central to the learning. If my answer is no, then I need to remove it! Clark and Mayer referred to this as weeding. I would need to go through my presentation and pull out the graphic/text/audio that does not align with my goal. Sometimes when I am attending a presentation, I’ll refer to the group “going down a rabbit trail.” In other words, we are taking a path that takes us away from the ultimate goal of the lesson. In e-learning opportunities, I would need to be sure that I am not taking the group down a rabbit trial.

I did find it interesting that an option would be to allow participants to choose to have background music or not. My husband teaches and his students prefer to have music playing while they are working on assignments. I could see how this would slow down their work because of the overuse of the processing system. Clark and Mayer discussed how this did not really effect the learning but could cause the student’s output to be slower.

Study Jams is a Scholastic website focused on math and science that allows students to watch videos or slideshows, take quizzes, practice ideas step by step, and even sing karaoke. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the math items, because they don’t provide a lot of opportunity for flexible thinking. I found that most of the items on Study Jams do not follow the coherence principle.

Tides on Study Jam is a video describing tides. The background music is slightly distracting while you are trying to follow the concept. Also, there are a lot of graphics that come on and off the screen and distract from the overall picture. It also breaks the redundancy principle by using audio and written words at the same time to describe concepts.

The Moon is an example of a slideshow on Study Jams. The presentation allows the participant to turn the music up, down, or off, which is something I read about in Chapter 8. However, the images used during the presentation are not always needs to support the text. Many of the images are superficial in nature and do not increase learning. Also, the slideshow moves quickly. I had to pause some of the slides to have enough time to read them, so I know kids would need to pause it too!

This made me reflect on my podcast from earlier in the class. Did anyone else feel their music in the background distracted from the content of the podcast? I wonder how you can incorporate music into a podcast without violating the coherence principle. Any ideas?


Except its on the quadratic formula!


This is a good point, and I have found myself using material to “create” interest that ends up more distracting. Gaining attention is important, but you can’t create interest with a gimmick usually as Dewey’s quote addresses. Rather than using flashy technology and such, I have found using activities that activate prior knowledge works better because it is building on interest that already exists, and it helps promote building new connections.


Just picture students with learning difficulties trying to understand those boxes at the bottom. They are called electrical diagrams or schematics.


I also get annoyed by sounds in multimedia presentations. Even if it took me a while to find what I was researching, I would find something with less extraneous sounds.


That is funny because the readings made me also question my background music in my podcast. This may sound ridiculous, but could part of the answer be choosing the right background music - music that isn’t really interesting and doesn’t standout- something that is more like white noise? I did also think about how sometimes the emptiness in the background, which can allow for every little movement and background noise to be picked up, can be distracting, so maybe having monotone type of background music can help listeners focus on the vocal presentation. Maybe.


According to Clark & Mayer (2011) when designing instruction it is important to factor in good design principles such as the coherence principle. The coherence principle states that instructional material (audio, graphics and words) should stay on target with the instructional goal and extraneous material be removed or weeded out. Extraneous sounds take a mental toll and do not allow for deeper learning. As stated by Clark & Mayer (2011) students that listened to music (vocal and instrumental) while reading took longer to complete their essay than those that read in silence. Extraneous visuals and/or graphics can hamper learning because they take the learner’s focus away from the important material or don’t allow the learner to relate the new material to existing knowledge. Basic visuals allow students to learn concepts much easier. Extraneous words may add interest, elaboration or technical details, but they are disruptive and distracting for the learner. It is best to be as concise as possible staying focused on the primary learning goal.

Applying the coherence principle does not mean that instruction should be dull or uninteresting! In fact, it means that instructional professionals need to take careful consideration when choosing instructional material to ensure it meets the instructional goal without causing distraction or disruption. Clark & Mayer (2011) state that multimedia instruction should evoke cognitive interest and not emotional interest.

I found a good example of following the coherence principle on The lesson is on adding and subtracting positive and negative numbers. This is a concept I recall my daughter struggling with when she was in school. I felt it was a good example of the coherence principle because of the simple graphics and how it showed multiple ways to solve the same problem. The text is short and to the point. I also liked how the lesson starts out with a simple concept and builds on it through each successive screen.


I have a daughter that always has her headphones in while reading a book or school chapter. I used to think that there was no way that she was comprehending anything she was reading because the music was distracting. I thought that until I began quizzing her and she would answer every question correctly. There is no way I could do that , but learning is different for everyone.


I agree with your graphic being a good example of the coherence principle and it is easy to follow. I also like the different colors used on the image. I use colored pens in my class for note taking and helps draw attention to different concepts.

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I like how you described building a slide show by adding material to each slide without overpowering one slide. This is a great progression for a lesson and should help to keep the audience’s attention.

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I liked how you had three examples to show the extra distractions. Example B would definitely be an overload of information for 4th graders that are just beginning to learn about circuits.