Coherence Analysis

The Coherence Principle is the idea that adding unnecessary music and sounds to a multimedia presentation interferes with the capacity to retain information being learned. This is based on the cognitive theory of multimedia learning that states that people process information through both their visual and auditory channels. These channels have a limited capacity for learned information. When excessive multimedia is presented along with a narration, the learner’s cognitive capacity is exceeded. This hinders the learner’s ability to learn and retain new information (Mayer & Moreno, 2000).

These principles seem so easy to follow when they are written out in front of us, but we all have experienced presentations that do not aid in our learning process. Death by PowerPoint. This is a common term for a presentation that has too many slides or too much information being presented. I have experienced this numerous times in my undergraduate classes. The professor or a student teacher presents information and half way through the presentation I cannot even focus. I certainly have not retained much information after it has concluded either. This is because the educator has either added background music to his/her slide show or put too many pictures that do not correspond to the text or narration. My cognitive capacity was overloaded and I could not learn all the information. Mayer (1999) talks about this issue in his article Multimedia Aids to Problem-Solving Transfer. He states, “When addition pictures or words are added, learners are less able to make connections between corresponding visual and verbal representations. The extraneous material may overload working memory and may signal readers to focus on inappropriate aspects of the material.”  The key to a successful presentation is using the coherence principles to provide animations and narrations that correspond to visual and verbal representations in the working memory (Mayer, 1999).

The coherence principle aligns with the redundancy and modality principles previously learned. The redundancy principle states that students learn better from images and narration than from images and on-screen text (Clark & Mayer, 2011). Similar to the coherence principle, this is because the visual channels in the brain are over loaded when images and on-screen text are used, thus reducing cognitive ability. When images are used along with narration, audio and visual channels in the brain can work simultaneously. When this occurs, both channels’ capacity loads are evenly distributed and cognition is increased.

There are many psychological reasons why the coherence principle exists. The cognitive theory of multimedia learning was previously mentioned. In short, it states that the capacity for learning is limited; therefore, extraneous sounds and animations can overload the auditory channel resulting in a significantly smaller amount of comprehension (Clark & Mayer, 2011). Another psychological reason why the coherence principle exists is described in the evidence for eliminating unnecessary video and graphics in presentations. Tests were conducted proving the idea that “when presenting more material results in less understanding” (Clark & Mayer).  Students were tested for their comprehension when given color verse black and white photos that coincided with their information. The students with the black and white photos did significantly better in recalling information than the students with the color distractions. Many tests have been conducted on the psychological effects behind learning.

I agree with the majority of the information about the coherence principle. Based on my learning capabilities and observing other students’ learning, I agree with the idea that extraneous material only distracts the student, instead of enhancing their learning. To get a more accurate idea of how the coherence principle applies, I think the author would need to specify what type of learners were tested. There are different learning capabilities in every student. The book briefly talks about the fact that there are high-working memory students and low-ability students. To get a better understanding of this principle, the students would need to be tested individually to establish a base line. Then the study results would need to be separated into the comprehension of the material between the learner groups. I would be curious to see what this would yield, especially if the results were significantly different. I would also be curious to know what the long-term comprehension in like. Can these students who are not given extraneous material comprehend the information mores successfully long-term? Or is it a short-term recollection? Other factors in this study would include grade level, surroundings, mental health, and basic cognitive abilities already acquired.


Clark, R. C. & Mayer, R. E. (2011). E-Learning and the science of instruction (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Mayer, R. (1999). Multimedia aids to problem-solving transfer. International Journal of Educational Research, 31, 611-623. Retrieved from

Mayer, R. & Moreno, R. (2000).  A learner-centered approach to multimedia explanations: Deriving instructional design principles from cognitive theory.  Interactive Multimedia Electronic Journal of Computer-Enhanced Learning, 2(2). Retrieved from