Instructional Design Principles



Watch overview videoVideo presentation on the Coherence Principle (5:25)


The coherence principle refers to the removal of words, audio and graphic that does not support instructional goals.  This principle assumes that the learning process is hindered when learners’ working memory is overloaded with seductive details that do not contribute to the learning goals. Based on the  cognitive theory of multimedia.

Guidelines for Use

Guideline 1 – Avoid e-lessons with Extraneous Audio

Learners will experience deeper learning from multimedia presentations which contain less interesting and extraneous sounds and music. Narration, background music and sounds compete for limited cognitive resources and as a result, learners are less able to pay attention to narration when they pay attention to sound and music.

Guideline 2 – Avoid e-lessons with Extraneous Graphics

The learner has limited cognitive capacity and is actively trying to make sense of the presented material, adding extraneous pictures, graphics or diagrams can interfere with this process.  Extraneous pictures can interfere with learning by creating a distraction, guiding the learner’s attention away from relevant material, they can also be a disruption and prevent the learner from building a link to the information presented and they can serve as a seduction priming inappropriate existing knowledge (Harp & Mayer, 1998).  Using a simple visual and diagrams for example during science presentations will lead to a better understanding of the material than a detailed visual.

Guideline 3 – Avoid e-lessons with Extraneous words

Avoid adding words for interest, for elaboration, or for technical depth that would interfere with the learning process creating greater distraction away from relevant material. The inclusion of additional words on a slide during the narration can distract the learner and overload cognitive memory.

Good Examples of Use

Example 1 – Khan Academy

Khan Academy presents a simple step by step lessons without extraneous sounds,  graphics audio that would interfere with students learning. The learner’s attention is directed to the writing on the board the corresponds and supports with the narration.

Example 2 – Duolingo

This free language app. does not include extraneous background music or sounds that do not enhance the learning. Learners can choose to listen to questions after it is presented while viewing appropriate graphics or text that enhances learners’ vocabulary.

Helpful Resources

Resource 1 – Youtube video on the Coherence Principle 

This well explained in less than 3-minute animated video on the main ideas of the coherence principle.

Resource 2 – Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning 

This site presents a description of the Coherence principle and examples of violations and critiques of the principle.

Resource 3 – A review of research and a meta-analysis of the seductive detail effect

In this review, the writer examines 36 experimental effects of seductive details. The review also discusses the theoretical and practical implications of text passages, illustrations and other kinds of seductive details as well as limitations and future studies.


Harp, S.F., & Mayer, R.E. (1998). How seductive details do their damage: A theory of cognitive interest in science learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90, 414–434.

Moreno, R., & Mayer, R.E. (2000a). A coherence effect in multimedia learning: The case for minimizing irrelevant sounds in the design of multimedia instructional messages. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92, 117–125.

Rey, G. (2012). A review of research and a meta-analysis of the seductive detail effect. Educational Research Review, 7(3), 216–237.


Submitted by: Melissa Hippolyte
Bio: Melissa Hippolyte is an OCT and RECE with the Halton District School Board. She is also presently enrolled in the Master of Education program at Ontario tech university.



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