Internet memes point to a feature of great learning design

This is the fourth post in a series on learning design principles for digital learning.

In previous posts we covered:

  1. The Coherence Principle
  2. The Redundancy Principle
  3. The Segmenting Principle

Captions are great.

Combining captions with unrelated pictures to create hilarious moments is a phenomenon known as the Internet meme. Borrowing from the word ‘meme’, coined by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, the Wired magazine writer Mike Godwin first proposed the term ‘Internet meme’ back in June 1993. Since then they have proliferated, evolving as they are shared and taking on the cultural relevance of the time.

The success of the Internet meme is predicated on three conditions:

  1. a picture, usually funny or strange or curious in some way
  2. a caption, unrelated to the picture, often with specific cultural, political or religious references
  3. the placing of the two together to create an entirely new, often hilarious, construct.

It is the third condition that embodies the principle of Contiguity. 

In learning design, contiguity is the presenting of corresponding printed words and graphics near rather than far from each other, and corresponding graphics and narration simultaneously rather than successively (Clark & Mayer, 2011).

This design feature in digital learning has been shown in numerous studies to improve knowledge retention compared to when there is a disconnect between graphics and words, whether written or spoken. It helps because it reduces extraneous processing.

This is a fairly straightforward principle to follow. But when designing your learning for digital consumption, don’t be a rebel like Gladys. Line up your words and graphics.

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