Modality Principle

l  Detailed Description of Modality Principle


Generally speaking, the modality principle is “present words as speech rather than on-screen text (Clark & Mayer, 2011)”. Learners will learn better when new information is explained by audio narration than on-screen text, especially when the graphic is complex, the words is familiar, and the lesson is fast-paced. It’s important to note that the modality principle is strongest when the material is complex for the learner (Tindall-Ford, Chandler, &Sweller, 1997) and when the pace is fast and not under learner control (Tabbers, Martens, &van Merrienboer, 2004). 

In a psychological view, the learners’ job in learning process is to acquire information.  Most learners more easily acquire information from audio narration than on-screen text because learners may experience an overload of their visual/pictorial channel when they must simultaneously process graphics and the printed words that refer to them. If their eyes must attend to the printed words, they cannot fully attend to the animation or graphics---especially when the words and pictures are presented concurrently at a rapid pace, the words are familiar, and the graphic is complex.

l  Support Studies 

Research Study 1(Moreno & Mayer, 1999).

Students were separated to two groups and with different ways of learning about lightning formation. Students from the first group viewed an animation depicting the steps in lightning formation along with concurrent narration. Students from the second group viewed an animation depicting the steps in lightning formation along with concurrent on-screen text captions.   The audio narration group performed significantly higher than the on-screen text group.

Research Study 2 (Mayer, Dow, & Mayer, 2003).

In this study, students viewed questions about electric motors. Students could click various questions listed on the screen to get an answer. The answers were presented in two ways; audio narration and printed text Students who received the audio narration solved more problems from a subsequent problem-solving test. 

Research Study 3(Moreno & Mayer, 1999).

In this study, two experiments were conducted. In experiment one, students concurrently viewed on-screen text presented near the animation or far from the animation, or concurrently listened to a narration. In Experiment 2, Students concurrently viewed on-screen text or listened to a narration, viewed on-screen text following or preceding the animation, or listened to a narration following or preceding the animation. Both experiments revealed a modality effect in which students learned better when verbal input was presented as speech rather than as text.

l  Critique of the Principle


On the basis of past research, high-experience students are less likely to exhibit the modality effect (Mayer, 1997). If presenting verbal information in an auditory mode allows students to increase their effective working memory capacity, low-experience students who lack a mental model for the instructional material would be the ones to benefit the most from having more cognitive resources available.

The Modality principle is also not likely to apply in situations in which the text is long and complex, has technical terms or symbols, and is not in the learner’s native language, nor when the material is presented at a slow rate, is paced by the learner, or is already familiar to the learner (Clark & Mayer, 2011). In addition, learning will suffer if the narration and animation are out of sync. (Foshay, & Silber, 2009)