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Okay, okay, that title is a *little* hyperbolic…

Today we’re covering articles that look at whether text on screen helps or hinders learning, as well as if audio lessons are improved by video and/or subtitles. Here are the specific questions we’re tackling:

  • When presenting audio information, should video and subtitles be included?
  • For instructional videos, do onscreen learner questions help or hinder learning?

A Little Redundancy is Good

The first article is founded on one of our favorite topics, drawing a theoretical basis from principles of Mayer’s Multimedia Learning. Research remains somewhat mixed regarding the redundancy effect; in some situations, receiving multiple forms of information can help our comprehension, but in other situations it will hinder our ability to process the information. This idea lives alongside cognitive load, which is something we’ve covered a bit before (Sweller et al., 2011). When we have multiple forms of information (i.e., video, audio, and/or text), it is important to consider individual differences in ability to deal with the cognitive load. Thus, the current study aimed to look at the modality (audio, video, subtitles) alongside cognitive abilities, by evaluating differences in working memory (Zheng, Ye, Hsiao, 2022).

To evaluate the differences in comprehension between modalities, learners were provided with 16 lessons total - 4 lessons in each of the following: astronomy, chemistry, ecology, and geography. While it may seem a lot, each lesson was bite-sized, lasting only 75 seconds. Lessons were provided in 4 different conditions, audio-only, audio with verbatim subtitles, audio with relevant video, and audio with subtitles + video (see below). All participants received all conditions, with 1 per topic (Zheng et al., 2022).

(Zheng et al., 2022)

The other variables of interest were cognitive abilities, as determined by working memory, and comprehension. First, comprehension was measured through multiple choice questions. Higher accuracy regarding content memory means higher comprehension. The other variable, working memory, was assessed with the 2-back task (Zheng et al., 2022). This task is *a classic* and you might surprise yourself! Essentially, participants are shown a quick succession of letters and must decide if they saw a particular letter 2 trials back. If you’d like to try it out for yourself, which I definitely encourage, check it out here on PsyToolkit. They also utilized the Tower of London and Multitasking Test (Zheng et al., 2022).

Onward into the results! The results ultimately illustrated that comprehension was best for the audio lesson when subtitles were included but was hindered with video (Zheng et al., 2022). However, comprehension differed with video (audio +video only) depending on cognitive abilities. Generally, those with higher levels of cognitive abilities performed better on the video lesson comprehension compared to those with lower working memory (Zheng et al., 2022). Why does this matter? While we may assume that providing learners with multiple forms of input would be beneficial, sometimes this can push up the cognitive load. Although video content may be relevant to the audio lesson, keeping it to audio and subtitles seems to be best - particularly when we’re not aware of our audience’s working memory.

Key Takeaway: When providing learners with content knowledge via audio, it might be best to skip the video. Add verbatim subtitles to drive home that redundancy, but keep it to audio + subtitles.

Read More (Open Access): Zheng, Y., Ye, X., & Hsiao, J. H. (2022). Does adding video and subtitles to an audio lesson facilitate its comprehension?. Learning and Instruction, 77.

“If an instructor wants learners to gain better learning performance, they should not present messages while the video lecture is ongoing; if the instructor wants the learning experience to be interaction, then the interaction should take place after viewing the lecture.“
- Pi et al. (2020)

No Questions, Just Answers

Videos, in many forms, have become a large part of the learning process. When providing instruction via video, it may be synchronous or asynchronous. Both formats have pros and cons, but ultimately provide learning opportunities. When considering video instruction, social interaction has been an increasingly important topic. How do we integrate video and social learning? Can social constructivism be implemented into media learning in a meaningful way?

One way social learning is often included into video instruction is through learner questions. For example, in many MOOCs, instructional videos include learner-posted questions that take the form of “online messages that appear onscreen for other learners to read during the lecture” (Pi, Tang, & Yang, 2020). The authors of the current study aimed to understand how these messages impact learner performance, as well as if control of the video may impact performance (Pi et al., 2020).

To evaluate the effect of messages, the participants were split into three groups: “(a) a conventional video lecture as control, (b) a video lecture in which learners saw others’ messages at the top of the screen during the demonstration sections, and (c) a video lecture in which learners saw others’ messages at the top of the screen during the questioning sections“ (Pi et al., 2020). The control group did not see any messages displayed, the demonstration group saw messages related to the content that the instructor was currently presenting, and the questioning section saw messages of learners responding to the instructor’s questions. Learners completed a prior knowledge test, retention test, and transfer test (Pi et al., 2020).

Interestingly, no significant difference was found between the groups for retention. However, results did show greater transfer for those in the conventional group over the message groups (Pi et al., 2020). This finding is in line with the coherence principle of Mayer’s Multimedia Learning, which suggests that messages would encourage learners to engage in extraneous processing (i.e., take away thinking away from the topic and toward the posted messages).

Authors conducted a follow-up experiment where learners were able to pause the video and post questions themselves. The results echoed the previous findings, transfer was negatively impacted (Pi et al., 2020). However, learners did state they thought questions were beneficial to their learning. This is an important finding, and one that we see quite often, that I think truly emphasizes the importance of research, as we often don’t know what is best for our own learning!

Key Takeaway: While including learner questions onscreen might be tempting, it is associated with lower learning outcomes. When presenting online instructional videos, workshops, etc., skip the onscreen questions. To promote social learning, the authors suggest a discussion after the session.

Read More ($): Pi, Z., Tang, M., & Yang, J. (2020). Seeing others’ messages on the screen during video lectures hinders transfer of learning. Interactive Learning Environments.

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The LSW Crew

Learning Science Weekly is written and edited by Kaitlyn Erhardt, Ph.D.

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