Applying the Principle of Temporal Contiguity

mayer's principle of temporal contiguityThe Contiguity Principle, which was mentioned in earlier articles, emphasizes the need for elements in a lesson to be in close proximity to each other. The first principle under this, referred to as the Principle of Spatial Contiguity, discusses ways by which elements can be arranged closely together to save on cognitive load. The second principle, which is the focus of this article, is referred to as the Principle of Temporal Contiguity.

The need to coordinate spoken words together with corresponding graphics is the focal point of this principle. A narration for describing an event, a stage or a step in a process should be played synchronously with the visuals showing the event. Simply put, Mayer and Clark (2011) recommend that graphics with their corresponding spoken explanations should be presented at the same time.

In instances where a narrative and an animation are presented at different times, the learner has to exert additional effort to coordinate these two separate sources of information. This utilizes a huge percentage of working memory, and when this happens, it can easily lead to cognitive overload.

How can this be prevented? The sections below present ways by which the Principle of Temporal Contiguity can be applied.

Do not present links/icons to graphics separately from links to  narration

Some e-learning modules may present two separate links for animation and narration. The learner can choose which one he wants to click first. He can choose to listen to the narration first, then later on, click on the animation to view the process being described, or vice versa. Though some learners may think that this is ideal since it allows them to select what they want to do first, these two separate sources of information can put a strain on working memory. The learner has to hold all of the relevant information from the narration in his working memory, then recall them later on and match them up with the visual information when he watches the animation. When this happens, learning is compromised because of the unnecessary mental load that is required, thereby hindering deeper cognition of the subject matter.

Thus, it is recommended that e-learning lessons should not separate the auditory elements from the corresponding visual elements.

 Do not separate Graphics and Narration in Continuous Presentations

In some instances where a lesson is presented as a continuous unit of graphics, animations and narration, e-learning modules present these elements separately from each other. For example, the lesson may start with a short narration as an introduction, followed by pictures or animations, then again followed by narrations explaining the visual elements. Again, this situation may cause cognitive overload, because the learner has to keep the verbal information in working memory to integrate with the pictures or animations. For a better presentation, it is recommended that narrations be played at the same time when still frames or other visuals are shown for him to easily make mental connections between these elements.

Keeping the above points in mind can help augment learning by keeping extraneous processing in check and preventing cognitive overload which lead to inefficient learning. Temporal contiguity helps the learner get more out of e-learning modules, at the same time enhancing quality learning and instruction.