Project #6: Coherence Analysis

Image used under Creative Commons Zero – CC0 Attribution.

Have you ever noticed when navigating unfamiliar city streets, that you turn your music down? There is nothing about looking for street signs or avoiding traffic that requires you to hear, yet you turn the music off when you need to concentrate. This is an everyday example of the Coherence Principle.

The Coherence Principle states that, in multimedia education, extraneous graphics, sounds, or effects can take away from a person’s ability to learn the material. Creators of educational media will sometimes try to spice up dry content with music, flashy effects or animations, and transitions, but the learner’s comprehension of the material has been shown to be adversely affected by extraneous material. When you need to concentrate, your instinct is to clear away extraneous things.

The Coherence Principle and the Redundancy Principle intersect, as the Redundancy Principle states that text, audio, and graphics together is worse for learning than just audio and graphics. Text is extraneous when audio and graphics are used. It gets worse when the cognitive load is increased, meaning the material is harder to understand. Extraneous media, like music when you are trying to navigate in an unfamiliar city, take away from your ability to learn or perform tasks. That’s why you instinctually turn your music down.

Most Powerpoint novices get enamored with bullet effects, transitions, and sound effects to add “interest” to boring bullet points and text-heavy slides. These skills of creating transitions, animating bullets, and adding sound effects should be taught and played with in introductory lessons and then quickly thrown out of regular use and avoided unless absolutely needed. The Prezi is another example where swooping animation into circles full of text is extraneous and does nothing to increase learning or the transfer of information.

There are, in my opinion, times when the Coherence Principle should be discarded. Flying bullet points and Prezi animation can help when they directly relate to the subject being taught. The Coherence Principle says extraneous content should be avoided (Clark & Mayer 2008). However, when the structure of a Prezi illustrates the subject being learned or the animation reflects the back and forth in a battle then it can enhance learning. For example, in the example used in the introductory Prezi tutorial of the Montages and the Capulets in Romeo and Juliet, the conflict between the two is illustrated in a way that helps the learner understand the characters as well as their place in the book. Similarly, a swooping in bullet point along with a sound effect can be effective if used sparingly to emphasize a point or even to get a laugh. Learning is often not just about absorption of information, it is often about joy. Creating a humorous moment can bring an audience together in laughter and a shared moment. Extraneous sounds and graphics can emphasize a point and focus attention in a way that creates a positive learning experience.

The Coherence Principle is a good guideline to follow though, and like most guidelines, crossing the line should be reserved for times when it is absolutely needed and with full knowledge of what you are doing. As a creator of multimedia content, The Coherence Principle actually keeps you from spending valuable time on things that do not improve learning, and who can argue with saving work at the same time as you improve your work.



Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2008). E-learning and the science of instruction, 2nd edition. Pfeiffer: San Francisco, CA.

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