The Effective Use of Audio for Learning

In order to properly analyze this week’s discussion scenarios, it is necessary to have a shared representation regarding key terminology such as cognitive load, including variations such as extraneous cognitive load, germane cognitive load and intrinsic cognitive load. Cognitive load is primarily believed to be “the amount of mental effort that a learner expends …based upon human cognitive architecture which consists of a severely limited working memory with partly independent processing units for visual/spatial and auditory/verbal information, which interacts with a comparatively unlimited long-term memory” (Kirchner, Ayres & Chandler, 2010, p. 102). However, there are some researchers who argue that “cognitive load refers to the cognitive capacity that is ACTUALLY (emphasis added) allocated to accommodate the demands imposed by the task; thus, it can be considered the actual cognitive load” (Kirchner, et al., 2010, p. 102). Further, “cognitive load is caused by … the number of NOVEL (emphasis added) elements in learning materials that need to be kept in working (i.e., short-term) memory and the degree of interaction between those novel elements (Kirchner, et al., 2010, p. 102). The authors continue, “if that load is facilitative of and/or functional for learning, then the load is considered germane for learning; if that load does not promote or advance learning, then the load is considered to be extraneous to learning (Kirchner, et al., 2010, p. 103). Intrinsic cognitive load is “connected to the nature of the material to be learned” (Bannert, 2002, p. 139). For example, high intrinsic cognitive load would occur when the learner has not developed appropriate fundamental schemata regarding the subject matter.

Dr. Mayer’s Triarchic Method of Instruction (Laureate, n.d.) addresses these issues by providing tools to structure instructional design keeping extraneous load to a minimum, ensuring any cognitive load is directly germane to the instruction and attempting to optimize cognitive load with learning. To wit, the Triarchic Method of Instruction consists of three primary components or purposes: (1) to reduce extraneous processing; (2) to manage essential processing (selection of relevant information); and, (3) to foster generative processing; theoretically resulting in reduced cognitive load and improved learning capabilities. Extraneous cognitive load is the “result of implementing instructional techniques that require students to engage in activities that are not directed at schema acquisition” (Kilic & Yildirim, 2010, p. 4480). To reduce extraneous cognitive load, Mayer advocates understanding and application of five specific principles for instructional design (coherence principle, signaling principle, redundancy principle, spatial and temporal contiguity principles). To manage essential processing Mayer recommends instruction be designed giving due consideration to material complexity and learner’s prior knowledge (Laureate, n.d.). Further, Mayer suggests utilization of segmenting, pre-training and modality theory to accomplish the foregoing task successfully (Laureate, n.d.).

Scenario A: Instructor Smith always creates very detailed PowerPoint presentations, which he reads aloud verbatim as he presents them to his students.

Mr. Smith’s presentation is problematic on two separate extraneous cognitive overload fronts. First, the instruction suffers from a redundancy effect, as the on-screen text is narrated verbatim. “Redundancy refers to presenting words in both text and audio narration which hinder learning” (Kilic & Yildirim, 2010, p. 4481). In this situation, the research indicates learning is reduced, as opposed to providing the learning with integrated graphics with audio narration. Second, the being “very detailed” likely indicates either (1) too much irrelevant information is being presented during the instruction and/or (2) too much relevant information is being presented and needs to be segmented into smaller subsets prior to being presented, theoretically reducing cognitive overload and improving learning. The coherence principle “refers to presenting irrelevant sound, picture and graphics which can hurt learning … extraneous picture and word should be eliminated” (Kilic & Yildirim, 2010, p. 4481). Additionally, if the instruction is particularly technical and/or terminology dense in nature, it would be beneficial to provide pre-training regarding terminology prior to instruction on how the various components (terms) interrelate and/or function together (Laureate, n.d.).

Scenario B: A website you have always relied on in the past for information recently reformatted their content. Now, whenever you go to the site, very intense music automatically begins and you cannot turn it off.

Being an extremely sensitive person with regard to auditory inputs, I can personally understand the traumatic implications. I did not learn appropriate coping mechanisms until a few years ago, well after the majority of my education was completed. Many younger students may not understand why they would respond negatively towards such stimulus and/or how or why it would or could dramatically affect their learning potential.

The fact that the music is “intense” and there is no way to turn it off would be problematic to the average learner in a couple of ways (again, from an extraneous cognitive perspective). First, although the person is accustomed to using the website to gather information, the new extraneous or irrelevant music content could seriously distract the learner and is a blatant violation of the coherence principle (Kilic & Yildirim, 2010; Laureate, n.d.). The learner would have to either spend a great deal of working memory purposely (mentally) ignoring the music (something I am virtually incapable of), or they would have to figure out how to turn their volume off on their computer (which may or may not be problematic for that particular learner depending on their computer skill level). In either event, according to Mayer’s theories, the learner is wasting valuable cognitive working memory capacity on irrelevant aspects of information acquisition.

There are many options available to resolve this issue: remove the music from the site, create an option to turn the music on or off, volume control, and possibly musical options regarding selection. Some research has indicated classical music without vocals can actually enhance cognitive function. Apparently, it is the vocal aspect that splits the learner’s attention away from the task at hand. Although, this seems to contradict Mayer’s modality principle based on dual coding theory which is the “idea that verbal stimuli and nonverbal stimuli detected by our sensory systems are processed in different systems of the brain (verbal system and nonverbal system)” (Kim & Gilman, 2008, p. 115). Limited learner control over instructional options has had a positive effect on learning.

Scenario C: In an online course on software utilization, a screencast is used to showcase step-by-step instructions. In addition to written directions on the screen, the screencast contains narration used to highlight the most important steps of the software function. This narration can be paused, rewound, and fast-forwarded.

Similar to Scenario A, the redundancy principle comes into play because the directions are both written on the screen and presented via narration. The written directions should be removed to reduce extraneous cognitive load. Further, it is beneficial to signal important steps of the software function. “Signaling refers to adding non content information, visually or auditory, to the content in order to focus attention to those aspects which are important while watching a dynamic display” (Kilic & Yildirim, 2010, p. 4481). However, although the narration should have an ability to be stopped and continued at the learner’s pace, it is not necessarily a good idea to allow for rewinding and/or fast forwarding (Laureate, n.d.). It is unlikely the learner will know the most appropriate places to stop, rewind and/or fast forward. It is possible they would miss logical connections that a clearly segmented instructional program could provide. However, there is research that indicates the “bimodal presentation is probably only advantageous in case of system-paced instruction, whereas the visual-only format is probably better for learner-paced instruction, where the learner can compensate higher ECL by scrolling back- and forward in the material” (Bannert, 2002, p. 141; Tabbers, Martens & van Merrienboer, 2001).

Lastly, it is important to note research regarding cognitive load is complex, ongoing and in need of further investigation. Although a great deal of research has foraged into working memory and cognitive load theory, there are still numerous issues to address. For instance, there have been declarations of a need to explore the differences between various load types: extraneous, intrinsic and germane. Further, to investigate these types in varying instructional designs (Cierniak, Scheiter & Gerjets, 2009). In addition, there are criticisms regarding current research for not attempting to incorporate other relevant features of the information processing model into cognitive load theory. For instance, “the importance of the monitoring activities that influence the different processes: monitoring/controlling the selection and organization of sensory information to working memory; back and forth storage and retrieval of schemas from LTM to STM; organization monitoring of output, etc.” (Valcke, 2002, p. 149). Valcke further argues that cognitive load theory needs to address research inconsistencies due to non-replicable results, possibly due to “confounding variables like prior knowledge, element interaction and redundancy, which are difficult to control, making it difficult to generate significant effects, or isolate the underlying factors” (Kirchner, et al., 2010, p.103). As is typical of scientific theory, despite how much we have discovered there are still many unanswered questions.

Lynn Munoz


Bannert, M. (2002). Managing cognitive load – recent trends in cognitive load theory. Learning and Instruction, 12, 139-146. Retrieved from http://ebscohost

Cebeci, Z., & Tekdal, M. (2006). Using podcasts as audio learning objects. Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects, 2, 47-57. Retrieved from

Chang, C., & Yang, F. (2010, 1 March). Exploring the cognitive loads of high-school students as they learn concepts in web-based environments. Computers & Education, 55, 673-680. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2010.03.001

Cierniak, G., Scheiter, K., & Gerjets, P. (2008, 31 December). Explaining the split-attention effect: Is the reduction of extraneous cognitive load accompanied by an increase in germane cognitive load? Computers in Human Behavior, 25, 315-324. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2008.12.020

Hinze, S. R., Bunting, M. F., & Pellegrino, J. W. (2009, 22 July). Strategy selection for cognitive skill acquisition depends on task demands and working memory capacity. Learning and Individual Differences, 19, 590-595. doi: 10.1016/j.lindif.2009.07.008

Kilic, E., & Yildirim, Z. (2010, January 19). Evaluating working memory capacity and cognitive load in learning from goal based scenario centered 3D multimedia. ScienceDirect, 2, 4480-4486. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.03.715

Kim, D., & Gilman, D. A. (2008). Effects of text, audio, and graphic aids in multimedia instruction for vocabulary learning. Educational Technology & Society, 11(3), 114-126. Retrieved from

Kirschner, P. A., Ayres, P., & Chandler, P. (2011, 29 September). Contemporary cognitive load theory research: The good, the bad and the ugly. Computers in Human Behavior, 27, 99-105. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2010.06.025

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Triarchic Model of Cognitive Load: Parts 1 and 2 [Video]. Available from

Schwamborn, A., Thillmann, H., Opfermann, M., & Leutner, D. (2010, 26 June). Cognitive load and instructionally supported learning with provided and learner-generated visualizations. Computers in Human Behavior, 27, 89-93. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2010.05.028

Tabbers, H. K., Martens, R. L., & Van Merrienboer, J. (2001). The modality effect in multimedia instructions. Retrieved May 2, 2011, from

Uden, L., & Campion, R. (2000). Integrating modality theory in educational multimedia design. Retrieved May 2, 2011, from

Valcke, M. (2002). Cognitive load: updating the theory? Learning and Instruction, 12, 147-154. Retrieved from http://ebscohost


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