Home » Creativity » Why two sensory modes are often better than one when creating e-learning of something complex

Why two sensory modes are often better than one when creating e-learning of something complex

Fig. 1. A powerful video can get the learner’s attention – keeping it takes a different kind of skill

Too many companies are currently touting software that can take a 45 minute lecture and package it in a form that makes in bite-sized and tagged – butting it through the Magi-Mix, diced. I can’t say it will necessarily improve or add to the learning experience, though I do like to stop start, rewind, play over, repeat, take notes … go back to the start.

The definitive research on use of audio and text to enhance effective learning was done in the 1990s and published in various papers starting with ‘When two sensory modes are better than one’ (1997).

Worth the read and written with the multimedia world that was then emerging in mind. 

By then I’d already spent a decade in the industry but was lucky to be in a production company that was using first Laser Disc then CD-ROM and DVD to create content – more importantly the senior producer had a postgraduate degree in interactive design from Lancaster University so we weren’t just shooting video for the sake of it. Usually integrated with workbooks, then interactive, blended and part of a programme of study. Often highly technical for the nuclear power industry, then utilities, NHS, banks and motor industries. Video can work in 5 seconds … or in 15 minutes. Sometimes a running length of around 10 minutes would play once various shorter components had been introduced in different ways.

It takes skill and thought to get it right – we’ve all heard of ‘Death by Power Point’ – we used to try to avoid ‘Death by talking head’

These interviews should be used with care – what you want is the voice over explaining actions as they take place with text superimposed where the action takes place – even captions and subtitled can cause a cognitive split, increase mental overload and diminish the effectiveness of the learning experience.


Tindall-Ford, S, Chandler, P, & Sweller, J 1997, ‘When two sensory modes are better than one’, Journal Of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 3, 4, pp. 257-287, Psyc ARTICLES, EBSCO host, viewed 30 October 201


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