Why this study
It is almost frightening to think how many hours are spent adding sound to PowerPoints. These, done with the aim of making the lesson more fun or more engaging, often include adding background music and sounds. But does adding “bells and whistles” actually improve learning?
To test this, researchers ran a series of studies that taught students about various new concepts, such as the formation of lightning or the operation of hydraulic braking systems. Some of the students received lessons that had background music, some had sounds (i.e. the sound of lightning would play when an image of it appeared on the slide), some had both and some had neither.
The main findings
#1 Students who received no background music or sounds were able to recall 76% more than those who had a lesson that had both.
#2 Groups who had lessons that had background music learnt less than those who did not. The latter was able to recall 11% more and did 29% better on subsequent tests.
#3 The results for students who had sounds as part of their lessons were mixed. Sometimes they did better and on others did worse. The authors note that it is how these sounds are used that is key. “The more relevant and integrated sounds are, the more they will help students’ understanding of the materials”.
#4 Students who liked listening to music and background noise did not do any better if their lessons had these. This suggests that there preference do not accurately predict what will help them learn more.
Related research and classroom implications
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that adding elements into a lesson that are intended to be entertaining, known as ‘seductive details’ actually hinders students’ learning and subsequent performances. This is likely because students will only remember the fun bits and not the important part, as well as overloading their working memory capacity.