There are many channels through which information can reach the brain. And once it gets there, there are many areas within the brain that can process that information. Grossly oversimplifying it, you might compare your brain to an office building. At any given moment, your various senses are sending requests and memos to the brain, which divvies out the workload to the specialized departments that deal with those specific issues.
We’ve all tried multitasking at one time or another. You may have noticed that certain tasks are much easier to pair with each other. I’ve found that I can listen to podcasts while sketching, running, or performing any sort of manual labor with relative ease. But podcasts while writing? Forget it. I could no sooner eat a bowl of hot soup while riding a pogo stick.
It occurred to me that this was because both tasks involved the language center of my brain. My brain would hear human speech and naturally tried to decode the message. Simultaneously, I was trying to create a message of my own, which was doomed from the get go. Both tasks were fighting for the same brain space, jumbling together, and pretty soon I’m typing the wrong bananas.
This is a classic example of Richard E. Mayer’s modality principle: “People learn better from graphics and narrations than from animation and on-screen text.”
Imagine taking an eLearning course where you’re expected to read the definition of a complex concept while animated characters dance around in the background. You could probably do it (I have faith in you) but it would be a bit distracting. Though processing text and processing a moving image does involve some different areas of the brain, their processing overlaps in the visual area of the brain. These two tasks add unnecessary complexity to each other as they compete for your attention.
Now imagine the same course, but with a static image and competent voice-over. This greatly diminishes the probability of getting your wires crossed, because each element is taking a different path to your brain. Problem solved!
12 Principles of Multimedia Series, #8
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