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Investigating the effectiveness of highlighting text-picture correspondences for learning with multimedia

Working groupMultiple Representations Lab
FundingIWM budget resources
Project description

This research project was concerned with the question of how students can be supported when learning with multimedia. To this end, the effectiveness of highlighting text-picture correspondences (signaling) was investigated together with the question whether these highlights aid learning in general or only depending on the prior knowledge of learners and why.

Students are confronted with multimedia learning material every day. Text and corresponding pictorial information are used in paper textbooks but also in digital learning material, since it has been shown that this combined presentation is more effective with regard to learning outcomes than text only (multimedia principle; Butcher, 2015). Research has also shown that the integration of verbal and pictorial information into one cognitive model can be demanding for students. To support students in this effort, so called signals –

highlights of text-picture correspondences – can be implemented (signaling principle; van Gog, 2015). A signal, for example, can be a sentence in the text referring to the picture (‘In the picture on the right hand side you can see that element X...’) or corresponding elements in text and picture displayed in the same color.

In a first step, results of a meta-analysis revealed that the existing signaling studies speak in favor of the learning effectiveness of signaling. However, the signaling effect is influenced by the prior knowledge of learners: In studies that tested learners with low prior knowledge, learners profited from signaling as a support measure; in the few existing studies that tested high prior knowledge learners no signaling effect occurred. Evidence from our own study with a high level of ecological validity even hinted towards a negative signaling effect for high prior knowledge learners (expertise reversal effect). Overall, the results suggested adapting signaling as a support measure to learners’ prior knowledge. In follow-up studies possible explanations for these findings were investigated on a process level by means of eye tracking. In addition, instructional support by means of signaling was investigated in various other contexts, including projects in cooperation with the Utrecht University in the Netherlands.


Richter, J., Scheiter, K., & Eitel, A. (2018). Signaling text–picture relations in multimedia learning: The influence of prior knowledge. Journal of Educational Psychology, 110, 544-560. request document

Richter, J., Scheiter, K., & Eitel, A. (2016). Signaling text-picture relations in multimedia learning: A comprehensive meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 17, 19-36. request document