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4 Ways to Maximize Learning Memory by Avoiding Redundancy

Redundancy

by Hannah Hunterinstructional writer

Hannah Von Bank Blog, sales assistant coordinator

Think of the last time you listened to a speaker who read their entire presentation off a Powerpoint word for word. Did you feel engaged? Did you learn a lot of valuable information? Or did you, like most people, have difficulty concentrating?

In 2001 Richard Mayer and his colleagues at the University of California decided to study how best to use text, graphics, and audio in e-learning courses.

The team conducted over a decade of controlled studies and came to some interesting results: knowledge transfer was improved when images were combined with text or when images were combined with audio. However, when identical audio and text were used together with or without images, knowledge transfer decreased. This phenomenon has come to be known as the Redundancy Principle.

You may be asking, “If audio and visual information work well together, then it goes to follow that audio, text, and visual images combined should create a veritable explosion of learning retention. What gives?”

When you learn a fact or a task, your brain takes in information, processes it and converts it to working memory. However, your brain can only process and retain a finite amount of information at a time and tends to get bogged down by details when presented with too much at once. This is known as cognitive load theory and it is why you probably remember more after reading the summary of a clinical study than you would after attempting to read an entire medical journal. We learn unfamiliar information much faster and retain much more of it when the important stuff is called out for us in small chunks.

Text and audio presented together overloads the working memory in the same way adding an equivalent amount of on-screen text would. And, because the content is redundant, it doesn’t give the learner any new information; it simply hinders their ability to synthesize what is already there.

Of course, there will undoubtedly be times that you will be required to include both audio and text in a course and, fortunately, there are several ways this can be done without impairing learning retention:

  1. Use audio and text on separate pages of the e-learning course.

    This adds some variety for the learner, allows for more screen space on pages that require explanatory charts, graphs or other imagery, and keeps things from feeling redundant. It also gives you the freedom to choose which modality works best for each section of content. If you feel you need to give the learner the option to access a written version of the content, you can always make a transcript available.

  2. Use text for summarizing and audio for expanding on the details.

    Another option is to use text to summarize key points and to expand on those points in the audio narration. Or, vice versa. The key here is to allow learners to focus on one piece of content at a time. If the key information is in the text, then the audio should support that content by expanding on it, not compete with it.

  3. Let the learner turn audio on and off.

    This is an excellent option because it gives learners the ability to personalize their experience based on their preferences, which as we know, has been proven to increase motivation, satisfaction, and learning retention.

  4. Don’t use audio for the obvious stuff.

    There is no reason to write “click next to continue” into an audio script. There just isn’t.

There are plenty of ways that audio and textual information can work together in e-learning, but they must be used strategically to support each other, not to compete for the learner’s attention.

I love exploring how the brain works, and, since we all work in training and development, I’m sure you do too. Are there any science topics you’d like us to cover in future blogs or interesting books or studies you’ve read lately? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section!

References

Kalyuga, S. , Chandler, P. , & Sweller, J. (1999). Managing split-attention and redundancy in multimedia instruction. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 13, 351–371

Mayer, R. , Heiser, J. , & Lonn, S. (2001). Cognitive contraints on multimedia learning: When presenting more material results in less understanding. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 187–198

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