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5 easy ways to use Dual Coding for studying

5 easy ways to use Dual Coding for studying

5 min read
  • The science of learning

Have you heard of dual coding? It had been gaining popularity as a study and revision technique, so you may well know all about what it is, and perhaps even why it is such an important learning strategy. But do your students actually know how to use it?

In this blog, we’re exploring 5 different ways to use dual coding in revision. But first, let’s have a quick recap on what dual coding is…

What is Dual Coding?

Dual coding is the process of blending both words and pictures while learning. Viewing those two formats gives us two different representations of the same piece of information. This works because visual and verbal information are processed differently, which when both viewed simultaneously improves learning – hence the term “dual coding”.

This helps form a stronger connection and gives the information a better chance of cementing into our long-term memory, as well as helping us to recall this information more easily when needed.

Dual coding expert, Oliver Caviglioli (who has written a great book on the topic which we’ll be reviewing soon) suggests 4 key principles for using dual coding. These are:

  • Cut – Reduce the amount of content, be selective and only use the most important information. It’s all too easy to just copy down everything about a topic, with a couple of added pictures, in an attempt to make an exhaustive resource. However, this just causes an overload of information which is difficult to read and remember.
  • Chunk – Divide the content into groups of related information;
  • Align – Make sure that words and pictures are neatly ordered, making them easier to read;
  • Restrain – Avoid “overdoing” it. In other words, don’t go crazy with different colours and fonts.

So, what are some different ways that you and your students can use dual coding?


5 ways to use dual coding when studying

5 ways to use Dual Coding for studying

1. Drawings

This does what it says on the tin: we’re talking about simply drawing pictures. Research suggests that creating a drawing from a piece of information requires you to elaborate on its meaning. You have to really consider the information to decipher how best to represent it, create the necessary motor movements with a pencil, and use pictorial processing to inspect your drawing once it’s finished. This deeper processing helps to cement the information into long-term memory.

Many students will be quick to dismiss this strategy because they “can’t draw”. The fact is, there’s no need to be an artist – the most important thing is that your drawings have meaning. As long as they represent the information you need to remember, even if this is only meaningful to you, drawings are a great way to boost student learning.

2. Graphic organisers

A graphic organiser is a way to organise information (both words and pictures) according to the relationships between different concepts.

There are loads of different types of graphic organisers, all corresponding to different ways of thinking: mind maps and tree diagrams organise information by “chunking” it into related groups; Venn diagrams organise information through comparing its similarities and differences; flowcharts organise information as it occurs within a sequence; other graphic organisers show information with cause-and-effect relationships.

If you need some inspiration, you can actually see some great examples of graphic organiser examples on Oliver Caviglioli’s website.

Help your staff understand and apply the latest and most important Cognitive Science research.

3. Diagrams

Diagrams are perfect for learning and revising complex concepts or processes that need breaking down to understand. They can represent a lot of information within a relatively small space, compared to writing it all out in one long passage, making difficult concepts easier to read and get to grips with. Here are several ways you can make your diagram dual coding more effective:

  • Make use of signalling. This means drawing attention to the most important aspects of the diagram, such as key words. You could do so by highlighting, underlining, putting writing in bold, using arrows, circling… To maximise the impact of these techniques, use them sparingly.
  • Place text within diagrams rather than around the outside. For example, if your diagram is simply an annotated picture, have the labels within the picture rather than around it or in a key. It’s much easier to process the words and pictures when they’re right next to each other, than if you have to keep switching your attention back and forth. This is called the spatial contiguity principle.
  • One creative option is to leave diagram labels blank. You can then re-visit your diagram at a later date to test yourself on filling in the labels. This combines dual coding with two other extremely effective revision strategies that you should know about, retrieval practice and spacing.

4. Posters

Posters are great for combining writing, pictures and diagrams all within one page of information. They can be used to present all the most important information you know on a specific topic, for example. To ensure you can easily learn and revise from your poster, here are some key tips:

  • Use hierarchy – Be sure to include titles and subtitles, and to emphasise these with larger writing or writing in bold. This not only make the poster easier to read, but also gives the information an element of order to help you understand it better.
  • Be consistent – Consistency of organisation, colour coding, fonts, and other styling aspects will all help to make your poster more readable.
  • Use contrast – Writing large chunks of text in one colour or highlighting everything on your poster doesn’t make anything stand out. Instead, use one or two key colours to create contrast and allow key information to stand out. The more sparsely you use colour, the more effective it will be in helping you to remember the key bits of information. It’s all about that 4th principle: restraint.

5. Timelines

For any information that happens in a particular order or sequence, timelines should be a go-to. And the same rules apply: collect the information you need to know, cut irrelevant information, chunk information into different sections of time, and put these into an organised sequence, all the time using restraint with colours and text and in general not trying to be too “arty”. As always, less is more.

Final thoughts

We hope we’ve given you some practical knowledge so that you can go off and start using dual coding to learn and remember information. We should add that, while we’ve aimed the tips in this blog towards students, these different ways of using dual coding all apply to teachers wishing to use dual coding in their lessons, too.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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