The Perceptual Basis of the Modality Effect in Multimedia Learning

  • Rummer R
  • Schweppe J
  • Fürstenberg A
 et al. 
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Various studies have demonstrated an advantage of auditory over visual text modality when learning with texts and pictures. To explain this modality effect, two complementary assumptions are proposed by cognitive theories of multimedia learning: first, the visuospatial load hypothesis, which explains the modality effect in terms of visuospatial working memory overload in the visual text condition; and second, the temporal contiguity assumption, according to which the modality effect occurs because solely auditory texts and pictures can be attended to simultaneously. The latter explanation applies only to simultaneous presentation, the former to both simultaneous and sequential presentation. This paper introduces a third explanation, according to which parts of the modality effect are due to early, sensory processes. This account predicts that-for texts longer than one sentence-the modality effect with sequential presentation is restricted to the information presented most recently. Two multimedia experiments tested the influence of text modality across three different conditions: simultaneous presentation of texts and pictures versus sequential presentation versus presentation of text only. Text comprehension and picture recognition served as dependent variables. An advantage for auditory texts was restricted to the most recent text information and occurred under all presentation conditions. With picture recognition, the modality effect was restricted to the simultaneous condition. These findings clearly support the idea that the modality effect can be attributed to early processes in perception and sensory memory rather than to a working memory bottleneck.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Modality effect
  • Multimedia learning
  • Sensory memory
  • Temporal contiguity
  • Working memory

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