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Like many technologies, a digital story may support or inhibit learning. In education, you might say that the value of a digital story depends on how well it supports both cognitive AND affective aspects of learning.


Cognitive load theory (Sweller, 1988) is based on the idea that human being’s working memory has a limited capacity. Because of this, instructional materials should be designed so as to not overload working memory. When working memory is overburdened, it is difficult for information to be encoded into your long-term memory. In short, we can only think about so much at one time and, when our mind is being asked to process too much information, then it becomes ess likely that we will retain the information.

According to Dual Coding Theory (Paivio. 1986), we process visual and verbal information differently. This suggests that we can process both verbal and visual information at the same time, as each utilitizes their own cognitive load. Some theorists argue that this is what multimedia so rich. Specifically, processing both visual and auditory information at the same time actually supports the acquisition of information because the information is processed by two (rather than one) system in the brain.

  • To see this in action, check out this shockwave simulation by San Diego State University on how the brain processes verbal and visual information. (Scroll down to see the simulation). Which combination of two was the easiest to pay attention to?

Richard Mayer is a leading researcher in the area of cognition and multimedia. He has developed a set of theories and principals that can help guide the construction of an instructional multimedia object. What follows are are descriptions of four of his theories from an interview with Cliff Atkinson.

  • Multimedia principle: People learn better from words and pictures than from words alone
  • Coherence principle: People learn better when extraneous material is excluded rather than included
  • Contiguity principle: People learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented at the same time or next to each other on the screen
  • Modality principle: People learn better from animation with spoken text than animation with printed text

You can learn more about Dr. Mayer’s views on the design of multimedia artifacts by reading an interview he gave to Cliff Atkinson.


Affect and cognition can both be considered information processing systems, but with different functions and operating parameters. The affective system is judgmental, assigning positive and negative valence to the environment rapidly and efficiently. The cognitive system interprets and makes sense of the world. Each system affects the other: some emotions— affective states—are driven by cognition, and cognition is influenced by affect [5]. The surprise is that we now have evidence that pleasing things work better, are easier to learn, and produce a more harmonious result.- Donald Norman, 2002, p.38

Earlier in this course you read an article by Norman describing the impact of positive and negative affect on learning and how this can have implications for design. In your assigned reading for this page, you will read a different perspective from David Wong, one that steps away from a traditional rationalist view of learning and focuses instead aesthetic qualities of a powerful educative experience.

Whether you side with Norman or Wong, the point is hopefully clear: Lack of attention to affect and aesthetics ignores important elements of learning.



Reading Assignment:

  • Wong, E. D. (in press). Beyond control and rationality: Undergoing, aesthetics, and educative experiences. Teachers College Record. (PDF)

Discussion Forum:

  • How does this article resonate with your ideas about “good” classroom teaching?
  • How do “affect” and “aesthetic” components of learning relate to your experiences with the audio and digital storytelling projects?

Please respond to these questions –> M4.3 Reflection Discussion Forum

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