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What is Dual Coding? Combining words and images to boost learning

What is Dual Coding? Combining words and images to boost learning

4 min read
  • The science of learning

How can you make your learning material both engaging and effective?

One answer for this: Dual Coding, which consists in combining both words and images when presenting information to your students. So, how can you harness this strategy? Keep reading to learn about:

  • What Dual Coding is
  • The research behind Dual Coding
  • The benefits of Dual Coding
  • How to use Dual Coding (and how not to use it)

What is Dual Coding?

Dual Coding is the process of combining visual and verbal elements to convey information, for example by presenting diagrams and charts alongside written or spoken explanations. This theory was formulated by psychologist Allan Paivio, who noted that our brains process knowledge more effectively when we engage with it in two different ways simultaneously.

Using both visual and verbal channels at the same time gives students multiple pathways to understand and remember information – creating a more powerful learning experience.

How does Dual Coding work?

Dual Coding works by tapping into multiple cognitive channels. The Working Memory Model suggests that we store information through two main processes: the phonological loop which is activated by verbal information, and the visuospatial sketchpad which is activated by visual and spatial information.

Because our working memory’s storage is very limited, activating both of these at the same time allows learners to optimise their use of resources by distributing their cognitive load. This helps prevent cognitive overload and improve overall learning efficiency.

3 benefits of Dual Coding

That’s how it works – but what does Dual Coding do? Here are the key benefits of Dual Coding on students’ learning…

1. Enhancing comprehension

Dual Coding allows students to create a comprehensive mental representation of the subject matter by connecting visual and verbal information. Visual aids such as diagrams or charts clarify complex concepts and make them more accessible, boosting comprehension.

2. Improving memory retention

When students engage with information both visually and verbally, they create multiple pathways for encoding and storing that information in their long-term memory. This makes information easier to recall during exams or when applying knowledge in real-world scenarios by essentially giving students two ways of accessing it.

3. Increasing engagement

Visual representations capture attention and stimulate curiosity, making the learning process more enjoyable and interactive. This increased engagement and motivation promote active learning and deeper understanding.

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5 ways to use Dual Coding

There are many great ways to use Dual Coding in both the classroom and independent study sessions. Some examples include…

1. Drawing

Creating a diagram or visual representation to illustrate a concept or process allows students to better understand the material and retain key information.

2. Graphic organisers

Mind maps can help students organise information visually and make connections between different ideas. This can boost their understanding and retention of material.

3. Diagrams

Creating diagrams can help students visualise relationships and processes between different concepts, facilitating a deeper understanding.

4. Posters

Creating posters with key information, images and icons not only provides an overview of a specific topic, but can also be a fun and creative way for students to revise material.

5. Timelines

Creating timelines with both images and text can help students better understand sequences and how different events relate to each other. This is particularly useful for subjects that involve chronological information.

    How to use technology to better use Dual Coding

    Technology can greatly facilitate Dual Coding in the classroom and help you exploit the benefits of visual and verbal learning. Three great ways to use technology to support Dual Coding include:

    Interactive whiteboards

    Interactive whiteboards enable teachers to present information visually while allowing students to actively engage with the content. Students can manipulate digital elements, annotate visuals and collaborate on the board, promoting both visual and verbal interactions.

    Apps

    Digital platforms are popular in embracing the principles of Dual Coding. For example, Quizlet leverages Dual Coding by allowing users to combine visual cues with corresponding text-based information to help create flashcards.

    Gamification

    Educational games and gamified learning platforms incorporate visuals, sound effects and interactive elements to engage students in learning activities. This approach allows students to process information through gameplay, quizzes and problem-solving tasks, reinforcing both visual and verbal understanding.

    3 common Dual Coding mistakes and how to avoid them

    1. Using too many words

    Remember, the goal of Dual Coding is to complement verbal information with visuals, not replace it entirely. Avoid using long paragraphs or excessive text alongside visual aids.

    2. Only making it look pretty

    Visuals should not overshadow the content. To avoid a Redundancy Effect, which would actually have a negative effect on learning, they also should be as closely related to the written content as possible. Focusing exclusively on aesthetics or engagement can detract from the learning experience and take away from the main goal of enhancing understanding.

    3. Overdoing it

    Keep it simple. Use clear visuals and text that convey the essential information, and avoid cluttered or complicated diagrams that may confuse rather than clarify. One great way to do this is to use integrated diagrams.

      Final thoughts

      Used wisely, Dual Coding has the potential to boost learning and tap into your students’ engagement and motivation at the same time. So, try incorporating it into your teaching material and getting your students to use it to design their revision material…


      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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