Researchers in China wanted to know how visual and audio cues impact learning in multimedia courses. Past studies suggest that students can only take in a limited amount of information at once, and these researchers wanted to know if offering visual and auditory cues could help direct students’ attention to what is most important and improve their ability to remember and apply new information.

To test the effects of audio and visual cues, the researchers divided 123 Chinese college students into four groups: an audio-only cues group, a visual-only cues group, a dual cues group, and a no cues group. All students watched and listened to a multimedia lesson about the process of neural transmission. The lesson featured a diagram and an accompanying audio explanation. In the audio-only cue group’s lesson, the narrative voice increased in volume when speaking certain key terms. In the visual-only cues group, the audio remained stable, but when those terms were spoken, the word turned red on the screen. In the dual cues group, the key words were spoken at a louder volume and the word simultaneously turned red. The no cues group saw and heard the lesson with no emphasis on the key words.

After the lesson, all students were tested on knowledge retention and knowledge transfer. The retention test asked them to recall as much as they could about the process of neural transmission. The transfer test examined their ability to apply the information from the lesson in novel contexts. The learners in the dual cues group and the auditory-only cues group showed significantly greater retention than the other groups, indicating that auditory cues are more impactful than visual cues on students’ ability to remember information. However, the dual cues group scored significantly better on the transfer test than any other group, suggesting that providing dual cues is more effective than either visual-only or auditory-only cues for applied learning. The researchers’ use of eye-tracking in their experiment offers a clue about why this is the case. The eye-tracking revealed that visual cues were the most effective in directing students’ attention to and holding their gaze on the key words on the screen. Thus, visual and auditory cues worked together to enhance student learning.

To further test the connection between visual and auditory cues and learning, the researchers carried out two more experiments. One mismatched the auditory and visual cues, and the other presented the visual cues and the auditory cues at different times. Both mismatched cues and asynchronous cues proved ineffective for learning, so the researchers concluded that the simultaneous presentation of auditory and visual cues is the most helpful way to enhance multimedia learning.

Xie, H., Mayer, R. E., Wang, F., & Zhou, Z. (2019). Coordinating visual and auditory cueing in multimedia learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 111(2), 235–255.

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