Coherence Principle

"Students learn better when extraneous material is excluded rather than included."

Examples of Violations of the Coherence Principle

Figure 1

One of the mistakes commonly made when e-learning developers design a course or project is to use non-related background music and content, and irrelevant graphics on-screen.According to Clark and Mayer (2011) in the book “E-Learning and the Science of Instruction”,the Coherence Principle states that all unnecessary information in multimedia messages should be eliminated, such as sound, images and words as they may

decrease the learning. As by adding interesting but irrelevant materials to e-learning courses may distract

the learner.

In the above example, the coherence principle is violated because the page is fully

embellished non-related graphics (images and videos) on main screen, which will

confuse learners to some extent and has negative effect on learning.

The three Coherence Principles which instruction designers should follow:

1. Avoid e-lessons with Extraneous Audio: Figure 2

According to the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia, the capacity of human memory is very limited.

It predicts that adults will learn more deeply from multimedia

presentations which do not contain extraneous sound. However, music can be used at the beginning

of the course to make the learner focus on the course and right and wrong sounds can

also be used in internal assessments.

2. Avoid e-lessons with Extraneous Graphocs:

This principle states that adult learners may want to mental structures or images of course content as

they read the content on-screen. An image placed in the course should complement learner's

thinking processes and not distract learners.

3. Avoid e-lessons with Extraneous words:

This principle states that simple, basic and concise on-screen text helps learning. Therefore,

we should avoid using long phrases and sentences and instead help the learner by using sounds

sparingly, adding complementary images and simple and concise on-screen content.

Examples of Violations of the Coherence Principle

There are a wide variety of examples of violations of Coherence Principle. Clark and Mayer (2011) provide

several such examples including:

In the above example, the coherence principle is violated because It does present a

confusion of extraneous text and images. (coherenceprinciple 2 and 3) which seems

non-related to learning content. I would like to direct the designer to the counsel of

Clark and Mayer (2011) to “stick to basic and concise descriptions of the content.

Studies that Support the Coherence Principle

A variety of studies support the conherence principle.

    • Garner, Gillingham and White (1989) found irrelevant material added to a multimedia presentation will spice it up.

    • Bishop, Amankwaita, and Cates (2008) found that sound and music was sometimes would hold the learner's attention

  • but they don't have effectiveness.

    • Harp and Mayer (1998) mentioned extraneous pictures and their text captions could interfere with learning in three ways:

    • Distraction, Disruption and Seduction.

    • Sanchez and Wiley (2006) provides preliminary evidence that adding irrelevant material can be particularly damaging for

    • novices.

    • Mayer (2008) listed positive results for eliminating extraneous materials in thirteen out of fourteen experiments.

Critique of the Coherence Principle

most of research reported about coherence principle is based on learners who are novices. So how about the

hig-knowlege learners, does the coherence effect also works for them? Kalyuga (2005) mentions instructional

design techniques that are effective for beginners may not be effective for more experienced learners. Mayer

and Jackson (2005) found that adding computational details hurt learning for beginners, but experienced students

might have benefited from those adding materials. In conclusion, coherence principle acts on low-ability learners

well, but for expericenced learners, it might be questionable.


Applying the coherence principle will make course effective and concise. As designers, we should focus on

stimulating students interest without adding extraneous materials. we will find a way to add interesting words,

sounds or graphics which match with our instructional goal while at the same time promote learners interest.


1. Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2011). E-Learning and the Science of Instruction:

Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning (3rd ed.). San

Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

2. Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. E. (2000). Acoherence effect in multimedia learning:

The case for minimizing irrelevant sounds in the design of multimedia instructional

messages. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92, 117-125.

3. Butcher, K. R. (2006). Learning from text with diagrams: Promoting mental model

development and inference generation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 182-197.

4. Mayer, R. E., Griffith, E., Jurkowitz, I. T., & Rothman, D. (2008). Increased interestingness

of extraneous details in a multimedia science presentation leads to decreased learning.

Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 14, 329-339.

Page created by Peng Liu. Peng is a Master of Science in E-Learning student at Northern State University