In chapter 8 of e-Learning and the Science of Instruction, Clark & Mayer (2016) speak about the importance of simplifying each lesson plan. They refer to this as the coherence principle. The word coherence has to do with cognition or the brain’s ability to comprehend. In an attempt to be thorough, some teachers or instructional designers may be overly wordy. The authors warn course designers not to make lesson plans longer than they need to be. They suggest that a teacher with good intentions may add more elements to the lesson to make it more interesting, but it is better to keep the lesson simple and to the point.
The authors also advise designers not to bombard students with a lot of attention-grabbing graphics. Even though it looks good, it may be distracting. Just because something is amazing does not mean that it is relevant to the lesson. They say that if a graphic must be used then the simpler the better. They provide an example of a graphic of a human heart. There is no need to use a graphic that carefully details every visible feature of the human heart. In other words, a professional artist or graphic designer should not have to create all of the visuals. It may be more helpful to draw a simple picture of a heart that will not divert attention from the simple point that is being made. If the entire lesson is not explicitly about the human heart but this is just one of many examples then the illustration should be as modest as possible. Students are more likely to understand the lesson if the visuals are not too complex.
Another way that Clark & Mayer suggest to keep each lesson simple is by not overdoing the sound effects and music. Some teachers may find it necessary to add music or sound effects to each graphic, but it is usually not helpful to the student’s learning. They warn that adding too many sounds may disrupt the brain’s ability to grasp everything that is being taught. They admit that there may be some value in using enhancements such as extra words, detailed graphics, or music, and sound effects, but if one is unsure of how it will impact students then it is better to ere on the side of caution.
I have found this chapter to be helpful because I tend to be very thorough in my lesson plans. I am guilty of packing as much as possible into a lesson to make a bigger impact. What I have found from teaching in different contexts over the years is that, even if the lesson is more exciting, if I give the students too much then they are less likely to retain it all. In the abundance of words, the main message that I need to get across to my students may easily get lost. Packing too much material into one lesson is a sure way to lose students. For my ISD project, what I have taken from this chapter combined with feedback on previous submissions is that I should aim to make every graphic or paragraph as concise and easy to follow as it is humanly achievable. Especially when working with a group, I have learned that the best way for everyone to agree is when each contribution to the project is straightforward as uncluttered. The best advice I have ever been given on putting together a creative project is never to fall in love with any single idea. As designers, we cannot be afraid to make the necessary cuts.
A Relevant Reference
Just like a good movie, lesson plans need to be edited. Swenberg & Eriksson make an important point about how filmmakers edit each scene makes a big difference in how the audience perceives the overall film. They suggest that “When film, most commonly, consists of numerous joined shots, the apparent consequence is that each shot in a series of shots is different from the others and identifiable as an individual shot…Whether a film is edited by continuity principles or not makes a difference to how film viewers experience the film emotionally as well as intellectually” (2018, p. 223). A scene from a movie is similar to a module or a single lesson that is part of a larger curriculum. Imagine if your favorite movie were eighteen hours long because the director refused to edit anything out. Yes, this very long movie may have the potential to be the most epic film of all time, but what will most likely be the case is that people will tune out after the first hour or two. Just as a good director knows when to cut a scene, a good course designer knows when to cut the lesson short so that students do not reach the point of mental overload.
Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). Applying the coherence principle: Adding extra material can hurt learning. In e-Learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning (4th ed., pp. 151-176).
Swenberg, T., & Eriksson, P. E. (2018). Effects of continuity or discontinuity in actual film editing. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 36(2), 222-246. doi:10.1177/0276237417744590