Today I’d like to continue our tour of Richard Mayer’s research-based multimedia design principles. Previously, we’ve introduced the Multimedia Principle and the Coherence Principle. This time, I’d like to share what he and his colleagues discovered about the best way to position on-screen graphics and related text.
Mayer’s research says you will get better learning results when images and related text are contiguous, or kept together, hence the name Contiguity Principle. In all eight of the studies Mayer did on this topic, learning from screens that integrated words and visuals yielded an average improvement of 68% over those that did not.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? If the words are separated from the graphics they describe, learners expend more mental effort pairing them up than they do when the integration is done for them.
Let’s look at two different versions of the same graphic.
The graphic on the left violates the Contiguity Principle. The image on the right shows an improved version, with integrated text and graphics.
Since the total amount of mental power needed to process information affects how easily people can learn from it, you want to design your content in a way that avoids unnecessary effort. The more challenging the nature of a topic, the more important it is to manage this extraneous cognitive load.
Sometimes aligning with this principle is easier said than done. An example is when space is limited or the text interferes with your graphic. One good strategy for these types of situations is to use a “hover and reveal” or “click and reveal” interaction to position the related text near a graphic without overloading the screen—or your learners.
This Engage interaction about brake parts is a good example of how to use a mouseover, or hover effect, to abide by the Contiguity Principle and place the related text right where it needs to be without cluttering up the screen.
If you prefer, you can also design this as a click-and-reveal interaction, like the one David Anderson used to create interactive screenshots for this software overview.
Have you applied these principles to design multimedia instructions? Does this type of learning research guide any of the decisions you make when you design e-learning? I’d love to see examples of how you’ve applied this principle to your designs.
Clark, R. C., and R. E. Mayer. E-Learning and the Science of Instruction, 2nd edition (San Francisco: Pfeiffer, 2007).
Mayer, R. E., “Introduction to Multimedia Learning,” in R. E. Mayer, ed. The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
Post written by Mike Taylor
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