Coherence Principle

 What is the Coherence Principle? What are its most important constraints/criteria?

The Coherence Principle states that information included in a lesson that is not necessary to meeting the lesson objectives will lessen the overall learning. The important criteria of the Coherence Principle as stated by Clark & Mayer (2008) are:

  • Avoid e-lessons with extraneous audio – There is evidence, according to Clark & Mayer, that background music or unneeded sound effects detract from the overall learning.
  • Avoid e-lessons with extraneous graphics – Graphics that are not implicit to the lesson will distract the student from the important in the lesson. It is imperative to use simple graphics with limited text.
  • Avoid e-lessons with extraneous words – As with the above two criteria, simpler is better. The key is to keep the student on task to learn the important information as completely as possible.

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.

When a tool first becomes popular, users tend to use all of the bells and whistles until they realize that it is not effective. The most recent example I can think of unsuccessful attempts to apply the principle is actually by me. I created a Prezi to teach our faculty the guidelines we needed to know for our TCAP (standardized test) training. We all have done the training so many times I wanted to try and keep their attention. I added sound effects and motion. It completely detracted from the content. They remembered the sound effects and motion, but they did not remember the important details. Successful attempts? Since then I have tried to keep my Powerpoint presentations very simple with very minimal text and certainly no effects. High school students are very easily distracted and they don’t need any further reasons to not pay attention!

Have you ever seen this principle violated or abused?

I think this principle is abused so often. People (both adults and students) tend to include an extraordinary amount of text on their presentations. It is very difficult to listen to the presenter and read all of the text simultaneously. I find I just stop paying attention altogether as my senses are overloaded. This concept has made me realize that I need to offer a Powerpoint workshop for both students and teachers.

Discuss the relationship of the Coherence Principle to other Multimedia Learning Principles examined thus far in your readings.

Throughout our course, we have discussed principles that have supported the cognitive theory of multimedia. The cognitive theory states that all multimedia used (graphics, sound and text) must support the way that individuals learn. We have discussed the concept that we have two different sensory learning channels. The multimedia used must not overwhelm either channel (auditory or visual) as that will inhibit learning.

Discuss the relationship of the Coherence Principle to fundamental theories of psychology as described by Clark & Mayer in your textbook.

As it applies to extraneous audio, Clark & Mayer (2008) state that adding extraneous audio will not make an otherwise boring lesson interesting. They also state that “Students will learn more deeply from multimedia presentations that do not contain extraneous sounds and music than from multimedia presentations that do.”.

Avoiding extraneous graphics and text is important as it can distract the student from the content they are meant to learn. As the cognitive theory of multimedia states it is important to minimize the overload of sensory learning channels.

What do you personally like or dislike about this principle? Present a coherent, informed opinion and explain why you hold this opinion.

In all honesty, I am on the fence with regards to how I feel about the Coherence Principle and its effectiveness.

As a student myself, I find that I like directed, simple and well thought out instruction. The bells and whistles are uninteresting to me. However, I find that students of this generation that have so much interaction with highly stimulating games, tv, etc. that they struggle to pay attention if it is not that way. They are so used to do five things at once, that I feel they actually lose attention if they are asked to do one. I certainly need to do some more in class research to come up with a more informed opinion.

Are there any limitations or qualifications of the principle (caveats) which the authors did not consider and, if so, what are they?

I think the main limitation to the principle is that the environment of the student has changed. My learning experience as an adult is much different than that of a student of this generation. How do we adapt for the changing environment?


Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2008). E-learning and the science of instruction. Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer: San Francisco, CA

Hill, A., Arford, T., Lubitow, A., &  Smollin, L. (2012). I’m ambivalent about it: The dilemmas of PowerPoint. Teaching Sociology, 40 (3), 242-256. 

Moreno, R., & Mayer, R.E. (2000).  A Coherence Effect in Multimedia Learning: The Case for Minimizing Irrelevant Sounds in the Design of Multimedia Instructional Messages.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 92, No. 1,117-125.



Posted on July 21, 2014, in 1.4 Learner Characteristics. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s