Teach and/or support learning

How students learn, both generally and within their subject/disciplinary area(s)

Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities

What can I do?

  • Use animations in  presentations so information appears as and when you talk about it
  • Put separate ideas on separate slides, so students are only looking at one thing at a time
  • Label visuals directly, rather than having notes or legends

What is this about?

Contiguity refers to how close together things are in time and space. The closer together they are, the more integrated they're said to be. In higher education, contiguity can refer to the way information is presented in multimedia presentations, video-based learning, or online learning sites. It can refer to how integrated things are in space like labels on diagrams (known as spatial contiguity) or how integrated they are in time like how points on a slide appear as you speak (known as temporal contiguity).

Poor Practice (spatial contiguity)
Good Practice (spatial contiguity)

What's the evidence say?

The effect of integrating information in time and space has a large effect on learning ➕➕➕➕➕ 1,2. Contiguity has a medium effect on learning when delivering information via technology (e.g., online, via multimedia presentations) ➕➕➕➕ 2 and a large effect when completing pen-and-paper activities ➕➕➕➕➕ 2. There is also a medium effect on learning when the integrated parts aren't redundant ➕➕➕➕ 2. For example, if you present a diagram of the brain like above, you could accompany it with a spoken explanation of each part (e.g., "Here's the frontal lobe, which is responsible for for voluntary movement, expressive language and for managing higher level executive functions ..."). Contiguity has at least a medium effect ➕➕➕➕ on learning regardless of content area (e.g., medicine, engineering, math) and has a large effect in the social sciences ➕➕➕➕➕ 2. The effect of contiguity on retaining information is small ➕➕➕, but its effects on transfer of knowledge is larger ➕➕➕➕ 2. It also had an effect on how quickly learners reached solutions. Contiguity led to learners solving problems quicker 1.

What's the underlying theory?

The Contiguity Theory suggests that learning is more likely to occur when the presentation of a stimulus and the response to that stimulus are closely spaced in time and place. This theory suggests that the closer in time and space the two events are, the more likely the learning is to occur. The Contiguity Theory is supported by the concept of cognitive load, which refers to the amount of mental effort or information processing capacity required by the learner. According to cognitive load theory, learning is more effective when the cognitive load of the learner is within their capacity, as this allows them to process and retain the material more efficiently. The proximity of the stimulus and response in time and space can help to reduce cognitive load by making the material more salient and by minimizing interference from other stimuli.

Where does the evidence come from?

We can be quite confident about the effects of contiguity on learning. This summary is based on two meta-analyses. One meta-analysis 1 included 50 effect sizes. The authors didn't report the types of primary studies included in the paper nor information about publication bias. That said, the heterogeneity analysis was insignificant, suggesting that the effects on learning were due to contiguity and not other variables, and the primary studies represented a number of different samples. Additionally, the effect size for this meta-analysis was so large that, even if the primary studies were described or a publication bias was included, it's likely it wouldn't have altered the results dramatically.

The second meta-analysis 2 included 58 effect sizes. A large number of the primary studies included in the meta-analysis were randomised controlled trials, meaning that it's less like that any effect is due to individual characteristics like personality or existing knowledge. The heterogeneity of the studies was not significant, meaning that other variables would not have explain the findings any better, and the primary studies represented a number of disciplines, educational levels, and countries, suggesting that the effects aren't isolated to one group. Finally, 2,989 additional studies that report no effect between contiguity and learning would be needed to overturn these findings.


1 Ginns, P. (2006). Integrating information: A meta-analysis of the spatial contiguity and temporal contiguity effects. Learning and Instruction, 16(6), 511–525.[2]

2 Schroeder, N. L., & Cenkci, A. T. (2018). Spatial Contiguity and Spatial Split-Attention Effects in Multimedia Learning Environments: a Meta-Analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 30(3), 679–701.

Additional Resources

We made this one-page summary of good multimedia design. It pulls together most of the key strategies of Cognitive Load Theory. We also made a 30-minute series of videos on the topic here (key video for this summary at the bottom of this page.