Teach and/or support learning
How students learn, both generally and within their subject/disciplinary area(s)
Signaling refers to the use of visual or other types of cues to help guide the learner's attention and focus on the most important information. This can involve using bold text, highlighting, or other visual formatting to signal the main points or key concepts in a text or lecture, or using gestures or other nonverbal cues to help the learner follow along and stay engaged. The goal of signaling is to help reduce cognitive load on the learner by focusing their attention on the most important information and making it easier to process and remember new concepts. By using signaling effectively, educators can help improve learning outcomes and student engagement.
Where possible, time signalling with your speech
A typical image, powerpoint slide, or journal article presents all the data at once. Students don't know where to start.
Use a laser pointer, mouse cursor, or highlighting to help students see what is important
You can time information to come out one at a time
Cover up the least important content with white boxes, then remove them to slowly build the image, so people know where to focus first instead of getting lost.
Signalling consistently improves learning.
Across many outcomes signalling improves learning. It helps students to retain information and transfer it to nearby problems. It makes people feel less overloaded, more motivated and helps them focus their eyes on what is important.
Mental space is limited. Keep it for the most important stuff.
How signalling is explained by Cognitive Load Theory
We can be confident in this effect.
This effect has been replicated across 5 meta-analyses.
Schneider, S., Beege, M., Nebel, S., & Rey, G. D. (2018). A meta-analysis of how signaling affects learning with media. Educational Research Review, 23, 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2017.11.001
Alpizar, D., Adesope, O. O., & Wong, R. M. (2020). A meta-analysis of signaling principle in multimedia learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development: ETR & D, 68(5), 2095–2119. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-020-09748-7
Richter, J., Scheiter, K., & Eitel, A. (2016). Signaling text-picture relations in multimedia learning: A comprehensive meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 17, 19–36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2015.12.003
Xie, H., Wang, F., Hao, Y., Chen, J., An, J., Wang, Y., & Liu, H. (2017). The more total cognitive load is reduced by cues, the better retention and transfer of multimedia learning: A meta-analysis and two meta-regression analyses. PloS One, 12(8), e0183884. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0183884
Xie, H., Wang, F., Zhou, Z., & Wu, P. (2016). Cueing effect in multimedia learning: A meta-analysis. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 48(5), 540. https://doi.org/10.3724/SP.J.1041.2016.00540
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.