Contiguity

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In multimedia learning, the Contiguity Principle (Mayer, 2001) states that students learn more effectively when text and graphics are tightly integrated, rather than presented separately. Contiguity refers both to spatial and temporal integration.

Spatial integration can be achieved for example by attaching specific pieces of text to specific parts of an image or diagram by means of call-outs or text balloons (spatial contiguity). insert image example here

Temporal contiguity typically is achieved by presenting the to-be-integrated material at the same time, rather than successively. For example, temporal contiguity for diagram & text materials could be achieved by presented text and diagrams simultaneously, rather than successively (e.g., in a multimedia system, showing one screen with text and the next screen with a relevant diagram.

Empirical evidence (and examples) come from the work by Mayer and colleagues. Typically, these studies involve task where subjects study a declarative presentation of a particular mechanism (e.g., the processes that cause lightning or a brake system), both with a diagram and a textual explanation. The effect of contiguity has often been explained in terms of Cognitive Load Theory.

Some researchers use the term "split-attention effect" for the detrimental learning outcomes caused by non-contiguous representations (e.g., Mwangi & Sweller, 1998).

Definitions from the EdTech Wiki

  • Spatial contiguity principle: Deeper learning when corresponding text and animation are presented near rather than far from each other on the screen
  • Temporal contiguity principle: Deeper learning when corresponding narration and animation are presented simultaneously rather than successively


Mayer, R. (2001). Multi-media Learning. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Mwangi, W. & Sweller, J. (1998). Learning to solve compare word problems: The effect of example format and generating self-explanations. Cognition and Instruction, 16, 173-199.