Studies on the Redundancy Principle and how it inhibits learning

In this video, from our Teaching Masterclass: The Psychology of Learning course, we're going to look at a couple of super interesting experiments demonstrating this principle, and a handy rule of thumb that'll improve the quality of your teaching by 1000x.

Franz Wiesbauer, MD MPH
Franz Wiesbauer, MD MPH
22nd Jul 2021 • 4m read
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The Redundancy Principle is concerned with instructional situations in which provided sources of information are intelligible on their own, meaning that they don't need any other means to explain them. In this Medmastery video, taken from our Teaching Masterclass: The Psychology of Learning course, we're going to learn about some of the underlying evidence supporting the Redundancy Principle based on a couple of super interesting experiments. As general rule of thumb, you should always ask yourself, can this piece of information be left out? If the answer to this question is yes, this piece might be redundant and could in fact harm your message.

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Video transcript

In the previous lesson, we learned what The Redundancy Principle is, and how it impacts your teaching message. We learned why you should not use bullet points in your teaching, and that you should try to use as little text as possible on your slides. But The Redundancy Principle isn't exclusively concerned with bullet points or text.

Adding a second image to an existing image that already explained something sufficiently can also be redundant. According to Richard E. Mayer, and his seminal book Multimedia Learning, The Redundancy Principle is concerned with instructional situations in which provided sources of information are intelligible on their own, meaning that they don't need any other means to explain them.

If the source of information, textual or graphical, is intelligible on its own, then any additional redundant source of information should be removed. In this lesson, we're going to learn about some of the underlying evidence supporting The Redundancy Principle based on a couple of super interesting experiments.

Mila and coworker, for example, were among the first researchers to experimentally demonstrate the redundancy principle. She and her colleagues studied children learning how to read. In the redundancy group, images were shown together with new words. So for example, an image of a cow was shown together with the word cow, along with cow being simultaneously spoken.

The nonredundant group did not see an image of a cow, just the written and spoken words. Performance on subsequent reading tests was better for the kids in the nonredundant group that did not see the image of the cow. So, why are pictures redundant when you're learning how to read? Well, when someone learns to read, they learn to identify the combination of letters that make up the word.

That's their major task. Combining these letters into words is complex for novice learners and requires a considerable amount of processing power. Pictures are very likely to capture learners attention and require additional working memory capacity. The more the kids look at the picture, the less capacity is available for looking and learning the elements that make up the written word.

Learning the elements that constitute the written word is the sole point of the reading exercise. Processing the picture requires resources that otherwise would be available to learn to read the word. The picture is redundant because it interferes with what needs to be learned. Let's look at another study. In 1993, Bob S. Cooper and Sweller performed an experiment that required participants to learn how to fold paper in a specific way.

They found that textual explanations added to images showing how to fold the paper resulted in worse performance of the folding exercise to a situation where images were shown exclusively. They even went a step further. In another experiment they added multiple images of different perspectives of the folding task to the initial simple image and compare the performance to the group that just had the simple images.

In order for the multiple images with their different perspectives to be processed, participants needed to mentally coordinate them, which was cognitively demanding and redundant. The task could be understood without the additional images. When participants were tested, the nonredundant group with the simple images outperformed the redundant group.

Finally, consider an explanation of the flow of blood in the heart and lungs. Check out my two upcoming explanations and see for yourself which one works better. Explanation number one, deoxygenated blood flows from the inferior and superior vena cava, into the right atrium, then to the right ventricle, then into the pulmonary artery, where it will flow to the lungs to be oxygenated.

Explanation two, deoxygenated blood flows from the inferior and superior vena cava into the right atrium, then to the right ventricle, then into the pulmonary artery where it will flow to the lungs to be oxygenated. Did you see the difference? In the first explanation my spoken words and the image were not redundant.

Rather, they supported one another. In the second explanation, the written words were redundant because they merely repeated what I said. And you might have started reading while I was not speaking yet. So, your reading and my speaking might have been out of sync too. By merely repeating what I said, the written text did more harm than good for learning.

So, as a general rule of thumb, you should always ask yourself, can this piece of information be left out? If the answer to this question is yes, this piece might be redundant and could in fact harm your message. So, we're back to a number one teaching mantra which says that the essence of teaching is knowing what not to teach.