It can be argued that Dual Coding is a teaching and learning strategy that teachers have been using for years and years. Yet the term and the discussion around this approach has only become widespread in recent years (despite the work of Allan Paivio with his dual coding theory dating back to 1971 and he states that dual coding has its roots in the practical use of imagery as a memory aid 2500 years ago!). There are now lots of videos, blog posts, podcasts and presentations shared by educators about how dual coding can be used effectively in the classroom.
The video below is a brief yet useful introduction to dual coding.
For anyone unfamiliar with the term dual coding the Learning Scientists, a group of cognitive psychological scientists interested in research on education, define dual coding as:
“The process of combining verbal materials with visual materials. There are many ways to visually represent material, such as with infographics, timelines, cartoon strips, diagrams, and graphic organizers. When you have the same information in two formats – words and visuals – it gives you two ways of remembering the information later on. Combining these visuals with words is an effective way to study.”
The work of the Learning Scientists is a great starting point for teachers as their website contains a wide range of materials and resources to share with pupils and parents too. Dual coding is one of the six study strategies that they promote. To read more about another effective strategy you can read my retrieval practice post here. You can download free materials, as shown below, from the website –www.learningscientists.org.
Dual coding is sometimes referred to as ‘multimedia learning’ (or ‘multimedia cognition’ in research papers) because the material used and represented can be in multiple forms.
The work of Oliver Caviglioli, former Headteacher turned information designer, has also been incredibly helpful, informative and insightful in regards to dual coding. I was very excited to finally meet him in person recently at ResearchEd Dubai and listen to him explore and explain the power of dual coding for learning. There is a wealth of information, useful visual resources ( as shown below) and a great video explanation and discussion about dual coding that can all be found on his website www.olicav.com
Like all educational research, dual coding has teachers (including myself) asking – what does this look like in the classroom? I have included a range of examples below of my students’ work (mainly in history but other examples are included from politics and social studies) using the dual coding strategy – combing written text and visual images. Dual coding can also be used to improve teacher explanation in the classroom which is discussed below with several books, blogs and recommended articles.
Timelines are obviously an activity that work well with the study of chronology in history and politics. Timelines can also be used in other subjects, for example, I have seen impressive timelines used in English Literature and Drama illustrating the chronological order of events of a plot using both visuals and text.
I have blogged previously about how I use this technique in my classroom, you can read that post here. Comic strips can be used as a form of timeline or to demonstrate a sequence, story, events, etc.
Note-taking & revision
Other examples from my classroom …
- I still have a lot to learn about dual coding. Whilst it may seem a simple strategy there is more to it than combining writing and drawing. The more I read the more I learn about the complexities of the different channels connected to memory and how dual coding can lead to cognitive overload and how there are ways to ensure clarity and improve effectiveness ( I share the links that explore these below).
- My students also need to persevere with dual coding too. There is a misconception that dual coding means you have to be a good artist but that isn’t true. Also, some students would rather just make written notes and others have spent far too long on the visuals. One of my students said it was a stressful strategy because she is a perfectionist and wanted her notes and illustrations to be beautiful but also informative. We discussed that this was a learning strategy in the same way retrieval practice is, not an assessment judging her illustrations and notes- far from it! Some students have fully embraced this study strategy whereas others don’t like it. This isn’t about “learning styles” but simply personal preferences. Students don’t always enjoy retrieval practice either and whilst I want to promote a love of learning it’s important to recognise the reality that learning can be challenging and difficult at times too.
- I have noticed an improvement with effort and concentration when students are using dual coding in the classroom. A lot of students are really pleased with their outcomes and this strategy does provide the students with an opportunity to be very creative too.
- Dual coding can be used at different stages of the learning process, for example, it can be used to record new information or as a retrieval practice strategy writing and drawing relevant information and images from memory.
If you are keen to learn more about educational research, cognitive psychology and how this can be applied in the classroom then I can highly recommend the book Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide. The Learning Scientists Yana Weinstein and Megan Sumeracki have teamed together with Oliver Caviglioli. Firstly, the book is a great example of how complex and perhaps difficult concepts and content can be made easier to understand when supported and combined with relevant visuals. The book builds on the work of the Learning Scientists in much more depth and detail. It is also very well referenced. There are tips for teachers, tips for students and tips for parents. I also liked the glossary of key terminology too. This book isn’t specific to dual coding but learning in general, as dual coding is just one example of a research-based method that helps students learn.
You can also order the new book, soon to be published, by Oliver Caviglioli and John Catt Publishing entitled Dual Coding With Teachers I have already pre-ordered this book and I am looking forward to reading it as there is a wide range of contributors featured as well as the words of wisdom from Caviglioli.
To find out more about dual coding there are a vast amount of useful, interesting and insightful blog posts available to read online that I have listed below.
A great introduction for teachers to dual coding, with a clear explanation focusing on dual coding and memory, is a blog post by Rufus Johnstone that you can read here. This post was a reflection on a presentation Rufus delivered to his colleagues about dual coding and the implications this has on learning. I found this very helpful with references to Caviglioli, Daniel T Willingham, Nick Rose and David Didau, explaining how this strategy supports learning/memory in a clear and concise way. Read and share it with your colleagues.
The example of dual coding above was taken from a blog post by one of my favourite educational bloggers Blake Harvard. In this blog post, US blogger and teacher Harvard reflects on introducing dual coding and its application in the classroom with his students. I like how Harvard introduces a new strategy, communicates with other educators to seek feedback then reflects on this. You can read the interesting post here.
Head of Geography and author Mark Enser has written a very useful article for the TES entitled Why every teacher should be using dual coding in the classroom. This article provides some do’s and don’ts from a teacher who has embraced this strategy in his classroom and is clearly very knowledgable about dual coding.
I have already praised and shared the work of the Learning Scientists but another blog I discovered by Learning Scientist Megan Sumeracki was Dual Coding: Can there be too much of a good thing? In this blog post, Sumeracki states “if a student experiences cognitive overload trying to process all of the information in a meaningful way then dual coding can harm learning”. However, Sumeracki does provide solutions and advice as to how to tackle this which are very helpful and practical.
A post I recently discovered on Twitter was written by History Teacher and author Chris Runeckles. I liked the examples and practical tips included in this post as to how dual coding can support and enhance teacher explanation, which Rufus also discussed in his blog too. Runeckles writes about the importance of explaining over images rather than teacher talk over written content which I know for many years I was guilty of! Runckles writes about how teachers can consider dual coding in their lesson planning and how this can help the teacher to reflect and consider which content can be cut from presentations and explanations. You can read Explaining through dual coding here.
Another excellent blog post that explains the importance and impact of using visuals in the classroom can be read here – which urges teachers to think about using more visuals in their classroom instruction.
I am a regular reader of the blog posts written by Tom Johns and this post does exactly what the title states – 20 ideas & strategies for Student Led Dual Coding. These ideas can be applied across the curriculum they are not subject specific to science. Some of the ideas shared in the post you may already be familiar with such as mindmaps, diagrams, Pictionary and Venn diagrams. Other strategies could be new to you, to try in your classroom or share with your students. In addition to the ideas Tom also shares a link to 14 research papers on dual coding for anyone really interested in this field – I am still making my way through the research but it does make for some educational reading.
Finally, another blog written by a classroom teacher that I enjoyed reading was written by teacher Ian Taylor entitled Dual Coding – A Concrete Example that you can read here. This blog is particularly useful for science teachers as it explores dual coding in that subject-specific domain.
Moving forward I will continue to learn more about dual coding and reflect on my classroom practice using this strategy. I also want to be able to make sketch notes with written text and visuals when I attend conferences and listen to presentations. I often take photos of slides as an audience member, I may tweet or share the image but I rarely go back through my camera roll to view the photos as I perhaps would revisit if I made notes with visuals. Dual coding will also make the presentation content more memorable for me too.
Below is the sketch by Caviglioli when he attended my recent session at ResearchEd Dubai. During another presentation, I was sat next to him and it was amazing to watch him do this live! I won’t ever be the next Oliver Caviglioli but he has inspired me to try this now myself.