How the Redundancy Principle inhibits learning

Bullet points are one of the worst teaching sins you can commit in a presentation. Why? It's an example of the Redundancy Principle in action. In this video, you'll discover what this Principle means and why most medical presentations are actually anti-learning as a result.

Franz Wiesbauer, MD MPH
Franz Wiesbauer, MD MPH
22nd Jul 2021 • 4m read

Bullet points are one of the worst teaching sins you can commit in a presentation. Why? It's an example of the Redundancy Principle in action. In this video, you'll discover what this Principle means and why most medical presentations are actually anti-learning as a result.

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Video transcript

Our common sense often suggests that presenting the same information in multiple forms such as providing text in both auditory and visual form, at the same time will enhance student learning. However, the available evidence shows that this belief may be wrong. In fact, research has found over and over that when several sources of unnecessary information are simultaneously presented to learners, they need to coordinate these sources, which generates heavy demands on working memory and wastes their limited cognitive resources on activities that are not related to the learning goal itself.

There are two situations when this occurs in the video based online learning. Number one, when information is depicted by both written text plus an image, or number two, when text is presented in both written and spoken form. 46 year old female, headaches at left forehead and temple, pulsating pain severity is seven to eight out of 10. It's not immediately clear to working memory what's depicted in the words and or images. So, it needs to make sense of what's registered.

Your learners working memory has to realize that what is depicted by the words and images, or the spoken and written words, is actually the same thing. This attempt to align information takes up unnecessary processing power and can ultimately lead to cognitive overload. When dealing with novel information, working memory is severely limited with respect to both capacity and duration.

Only a few items of novel information can be processed in working memory at any given time, and can be held in working memory for no more than a few seconds unless it's refreshed by rehearsal. So, in the case, where some information needs to be presented in both written and spoken form, which in my experience is very rarely necessary, we must ensure that both forms are closely coordinated.

Because, if the learners reading of the text is out of sync with the spoken word, the information will become disjointed and probably unintelligible. Working memory capacity will be required to coordinate the two sources of information and that capacity won't be available for learning. In contrast, if only spoken or written text is provided, their requirement to coordinate both sources is eliminated, freeing cognitive resources for learning.

This is the scientific explanation for why bullet points just don't work in a teaching setting. It's that dual presentation of the same message in written and spoken form that just doesn't work. According to The Redundancy Principle, comprehension and learning will likely be inhibited, rather than facilitated by such duplication of essentially the same information.

So, if you want to avoid redundancy in your presentations, which is the cause of a lot of extraneous processing, you should avoid bullet points in your presentations, and you should also avoid 95 percent of the text that an average presenter would put on the slides. When is it okay to put text on your slides?

We find that it's only appropriate to put text on your slides in one of the following situations. In titles or headlines, on labels, on an image, when you show words or numbers that need to be remembered. Specifically, like mnemonics or dosages, anything you want your learners to remember letter by letter, word by word, or number by number.

Also, words or names that are hard to understand or have a special spelling are okay to show on your slide. Anything where doing a normal conversation someone would ask, how do you write that? It's also okay to show text when you're quoting someone. When you're quoting a person or a text, make sure that you're reading the quote word by word in your presentation.

Research has shown that the written text should appear slightly after the spoken words, just a fraction of a second or so. If done so, the written text serves as a kind of immediate repetition to what's already stored in working memory, rather than information that needs to be processed concurrently.

It's also okay to show text when textual elements shown on the screen of very short, like two or three words, removing them may not be very beneficial, as the slight increase in cognitive load cost by them may still be within available working memory capacity. This means that when you feel that text would be particularly useful for the learner, it can be added but should be limited to individual words or very short phrases or sentences.

At Medmastery, we like to show very short questions that are intended to motivate the learner to think by themselves about the problem. Short summary sentences can work equally well, and will likely not invoke the redundancy principle, if the amount of power needed to process them is held at a minimum. In the next lesson, we will encounter some studies that underpin the importance of The Redundancy Principle. See you there.