EDTECH 513: Coherence Analysis

The Coherence Principle, at its most basic level, is the principle that lessons should consist of simple and relevant learning material without the addition of any material that doesn’t support the instructional goal.  This seems to be obvious from the outside looking in, but in practice… many instructors and designers fall prey to the allure of additional images and video which can distract or overwhelm the learner resulting in lower rates of retention.   Effective use of the Coherence Principal means being concise and direct without extraneous audio, graphics, or text.

I have been through many continuing education courses in my professional career many of which fail to adhere to the Coherence Principle.  Recently I was attending an online course which consisted of previously recorded material and there were violations of all three major principals.  Slides were busy with too much in the way of both text an imagery to the point of distraction.  This seems to frequently be the case as continuing education courses along with many professional development courses contain good material on relevant subjects, but never seem to have been constructed with much thought to design or how exactly the learner will be engaged in the materials.  I would say that some excellent examples of adherence to the Coherence Principal were brought about in EDTECH 506: Graphic Design for Learning in which it was emphasized repeatedly that less is more and that simple and clear materials were ideal.

Coherence does seem to tie together nicely with other principles that we have covered.  All of which put a strong emphasis on organization, placement of materials, sequence, repetition, and simplicity.  While these principals have their differences, I would argue that the general and overarching themes are very much in the same vein in their emphasis of maintaining a sharp focus on the material and avoiding filler and distraction to enhance the students ability to process and engage in the material they are being presented.

The relationship between the Coherence Principle and fundamental psychological theories are rooted in the basic statement that extraneous materials are more likely to distract students and detract from the learning process.  This makes sense to me, personally, as both a learner and from an instructional design perspective.  Adding flashy images, sounds, or text to information that will not hold students interest is definitely not going to cause students to suddenly spend more time with or increase the likelihood that they will grasp the material.  If anything its probably more likely to distract the students from the small amount of time that they would have engaged with the material to begin with.  To enhance learning and engagement on the lesson material content should be clean, concise, and as easy to process as possible.  As was pointed out by Lehman, Schraw, McCruddden, and Hartley’s study in 2007, adding seductive details harms learning by distracting learners from the important information (Clark and Mayer, 2008)

Personally, I believe that there is substantial value in the Coherence Principle and would liken it to the early days of web design/development which coincided with the development of WYSIWYG platforms like FrontPage(r).  Rather than focusing on good design and the clear/concise presentation of information, people in droves put together websites that were illegible, unreadable, and down right painful to use because they were so filled with “eye candy” that had been inserted because the user was trying to show off all the amazing things they could do.  Many instructors fall into the same trap by taking the focus off the lesson itself and adding content to the presentation that doesn’t belong because it doesn’t serve to increase or enhance the material for the student.  There are enough distractions that we have to counteract when it comes to learner focus, adding distraction directly into the presentation is exactly the wrong thing to do when trying to create meaningful learning materials.  I think that time spent adding fluff is much better spent re-thinking content and making revisions to enhance the material to make it more engaging and digestible for those who are going to encounter it for the first time.  That is what the Coherence Principle is all about.

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