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When are two sensory modes better than one?

Tindall-Ford and colleagues showed in several different experiments that when information is presented in audio and visual form, performance on complex tasks is improved (1997). (See above)

‘The intellectual complexity of information, generated by the degree of element interactivity, may determine the conditions under which the structure of presented information is critical and thus, when cognitively derived information-presentation techniques such as integrated and audio-visual packages are most useful’. (Tindall-Ford et al 1997:283- 84)

For example, an audio description of a circuit board is the same as having directions on a map explained as two modes of information processing are being used.

When it comes to learning design therefore design with the language and visual centres of the brain in mind, so that the specific combination of senses that might be engaged work in favour not in conflict with the process.

For example, we can read a map (visual) while receiving instructions on its use (auditory) – as the visual and language centers are distinct.

However, as I discovered yesterday, when I tried to pass on a message to my wife verbally who was in the depths of writing a report, not a word was heard as her language centre was fully occupied and shut me out. For example, ‘Death by Power Point’ is exactly that when the presenter puts up a great trance of text then proceeds to read it out – we skip ahead.

‘What we read or hear sends us off to a different place while the audio keeps on track. Thus we quickly end up with two language tracks.’

When the visual and the tactile support the language channel, they can accelerate and deepen learning. 

i.e. complementary senses engaged to support learning constructed in one of the brain centres, rather than conflicting senses either causing one to be blocked, or the learner to suffer mental overload and ego depletion Baumeister (1988)

SOURCE: http://shape-of-code.coding-guidelines.com/tag/brain/


Baumeister, F., Muraven,M., Tice.M.D., (1998) ‘Self-control as a limited Resource: Regulatory Depletion Patterns.’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74 (1998) 774-89

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, (Last viewed 31st October 2012).

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