Thoughts on Cognitive Load and the Modality Effect; Self-Regulation and Mindsets

I wrote the following discussion replies for an assignment in IDS 6504: Adult Learning, instructed by Dr. Kay Allen. The first reply is about cognitive load theory and the modality effect; the second is about self-regulation and mindsets.

IDS 6504 Assignment 6: Replies to Others
Richard Thripp
University of Central Florida
March 17, 2017


Richard Thripp, responding to [redacted]

Question: What are strategies that can be implemented to reduce cognitive load?

General Comment: Reducing extraneous cognitive load, that is, cognitive load unrelated to the instructional materials themselves, is a worthy goal. Two of your references might be characterized as the modality effect—that presenting information both visually and auditorily can reduce cognitive load as compared to using only one modality.

Supplement: When considering cognitive load and the modality effect, one should also look at whether the instruction at hand is system-paced or self-paced. Classroom lecturing, such as the Lewis (2016) article you cited, is a classic example of system-paced instruction, because the learner cannot decouple the auditory portion of the presentation from the visual portion—these two modalities are temporally linked. This is good. In fact, Ginnas’s (2005) meta-analysis found a strong presence of the modality effect for system-paced instruction, but a weaker presence when instruction is self-paced. In self-paced instruction, the learner consumes instructional materials in one modality while having the option of referring to materials in other modalities. An example is a textbook or learning modules with graphics and text, supplemented by an audio or video clip to be accessed separately. The modality effect may be so bad for self-paced instruction that it may even be worse than presenting instruction in one modality, at least according to a study by Tabbers, Martens, and van Merriënboer (2004). This implies that temporal contiguity is essential. Therefore, instructional designers may want to be cautious about providing text-based modules with multimedia supplements. In fact, if we accept the argument of Tabbers et al. (2004), it may be better to force students to watch a video where the temporal contiguity of multimodal information is preserved (i.e., learners hear the audio that accompanies relevant text at the right time, rather than minutes or hours after reading the text in the learning module or textbook), at least with respect to cognitive load theory and the modality effect.

While I have not mentioned the cueing effect, it may be important to the modality effect if cues are linked across modes (e.g., a narrator telling the learner to look at a particular portion of a diagram). However, the cueing effect, quite often, is seen purely in the visual modality, such as highlighting or otherwise visually drawing attention to an area of a figure, graph, table, diagram, or block of text.

As an added comment, what Dr. Allen does in this course with real-time learning sessions is a great example of using system-paced instruction to leverage the modality effect. She does not read from the slides, but auditorily elaborates on the points on the slides with different words. She does not offer the slides for download, nor a text transcript of the spoken portion of the presentation. Ironically, not offering these supplements may actually be preferable to offering them; even learners who miss the real-time session must review a video-recording of it, which ensures that temporal contiguity of the instructional modalities is preserved. If slides and transcripts were offered, learners availing themselves of them would become self-paced with respect to instructional modality, which can have deleterious, or at least sub-optimal, results (Tabbers et al., 2004).


Ginns, P. (2005). Meta-analysis of the modality effect. Learning and Instruction, 15, 313–331.

Tabbers, H. K., Martens, R. L., & van Merriënboer, J. J. G. (2004). Multimedia instructions and cognitive load theory: Effects of modality and cueing. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 74, 71–81.


Richard Thripp, responding to [redacted]

Question: How can instructors of adult language-learners address the issue of learners’ self-regulation so they may better manage their learning?

General Comment: Self-regulation is multi-faceted. Explaining the research on self-regulation to learners may be beneficial. Influencing learners’ mindsets is another worthy avenue. The instruction or assessment goal at hand is a factor in whether self-regulation should be prioritized or deferred.

Supplement: In their blockbuster literature review and position piece, Muraven and Baumeister (2000) contend that self-regulation is like a muscle—it is finite, can be easily depleted, and yet may also be strengthened by being frequently exercised. Explaining this to learners may improve their understanding of self-regulation and perhaps reduce inappropriate self-blame. Moreover, learners’ personal situations and an educator’s present goals are important. During instruction and formative assessment, encouraging self-regulation among learners may be beneficial. However, allowing learners to exhibit self-regulation by making all assignments and assessments due on the last day of the semester may have profoundly negative results for learners who fail to self-regulate; instead, staggered deadlines can reduce learners’ self-regulatory burdens. Further, educators and institutions arguably should reduce the need for self-regulation among learners who are going through transitions or already have a lot of self-regulatory burdens. For instance, the self-regulation required of doctoral candidates may be foreign and overwhelming, which is a contributory factor toward the undesirable outcome of doctoral attrition (Bair & Haworth, 1999). In response, universities might mandate format reviews, committee meetings, and draft deadlines to reduce doctoral candidates’ reliance on self-regulation.

Another important factor is mindset—whether the learner has a growth mindset (incremental theory of intelligence), meaning they believe they can improve their abilities with effort, or a fixed mindset (entity theory of intelligence), meaning they believe their abilities in a particular domain, or in general, cannot be increased through effort (Thripp, 2016). In an extensive meta-analysis, Burnette, O’Boyle, VanEpps, Pollack, and Finkel (2013) found that having a growth mindset predicted superior self-regulation. Growth mindset can be easily taught through brief instructional modules advocating the brain’s plasticity and potential for growth (Paunesku et al., 2015). Such interventions may have collateral benefits to self-regulation. Efforts should be made by educators to demystify important concepts, such as mindsets and self-regulation, among their learners. Then, learners may achieve metacognitive awareness, becoming empowered to recognize and adjust for their human limitations as a step toward truly taking control of their educations.


Bair, C. R., & Haworth, J. G. (1999, November). Doctoral student attrition and persistence: A meta-synthesis of research. Paper presented at the meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, San Antonio, TX.

Burnette, J. L., O’Boyle, E. H., VanEpps, E. M., Pollack, J. M., & Finkel, E. J. (2013). Mindsets matter: A meta-analytic review of implicit theories and self-regulation. Psychological Bulletin, 139, 655–701.

Muraven, M., & Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Self-regulation and depletion of limited resources: Does self-control resemble a muscle? Psychological Bulletin, 126, 247–259.

Paunesku, D., Walton, G. M., Romero, C., Smith, E. N., Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2015). Mind-set interventions are a scalable treatment for academic underachievement. Psychological Science, 26, 784–793.

Thripp, R. X. (2016, April 21). The implications of mindsets for learning and instruction. Retrieved from

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *