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Two channels are better than one

December 12, 2020 • Adam Barger

An easy-to-implement approach to content delivery is found in the Instructional Design (ID) theory known as Dual Coding. Don’t worry, no HTML here. This is coding for educators.

Dual Coding theory points to linguistic and nonlinguistic representations of information as part of human cognition. In other words, people learn information through verbal and nonverbal avenues. This idea has been around for quite some time and has proven it’s worth in the digital age through routine applications in eLearning. In practice, educators should seek to present material with both linguistic and nonlinguistic formats to take advantage of both learning pathways.

Imagine you are at a professional conference and the keynote speaker displays a digital slide to support a point. The slide is covered in text. Are you likely to remember the substance of that text? Probably not. However, if the slide shows an image or symbol related to the main idea along with brief explanatory text, it is likely the idea will stick with you and you will associate the image with what you learned. 

Let’s make this practical:

• When possible, include a visual cue (symbol, picture, graph, icon) with key ideas in your teaching. 

• Be consistent. Use the same visual cue each time that idea is presented.

• Use graphic organizers to provide tangible visual reminders of how information fits together.

• Curate or create infographics for data visualization.

• Don’t overdo it! If you present text and imagery at the same time, don’t add your own commentary (voice) without giving learners time to process what they are seeing.

• Need more ideas? See what other educators and instructional designers have to say.

So, forget the pictures and symbols for “visual learners” only, or audio options just for the “aural learners”. Instead, expose all learners to multiple representations of content, both verbal and nonverbal. Then pat yourself on the back for being an ID extraordinaire and master of two channels. 

© 2020 Adam Barger. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.

Meet the Author

Adam Barger is the Associate Director for Academic Innovation at the W&M Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation. Adam’s current research interests include digital teaching and learning, educational technology use in context, multimodal assessments, and community in learning. 

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