Dual Coding Theory & Cognitive Load

Updated: 2 days ago

Dual coding theory has continued to gain increasing attention within education, particularly with the pandemic and so much content moving to online and hybrid environments. Over the past year, educators have transformed content from traditional lectures to dynamic presentations, podcasts, infographics, and much more. Dual coding theory, as proposed by Allen Paivio (1971), focuses on verbal and non-verbal processing, including imagens for mental images and logogens for verbal entities” (Culatta & Kearsley, 2021). According to DeBruyckere et al. (2015), Alan Paivio’s dual coding theory and John Sweller’s cognitive load theory are both foundational in Richard Mayer’s cognitive theory of multimedia learning.


In the article, “Instructional Design Models and Theories: Dual Coding Theory,” Papas (2014) examines dual coding as it relates to processing. Dual coding has three distinct types of mental processing that occur during instruction:

  1. Representational processing It occurs when verbal or non-verbal representations are activated within our minds during the learning process.

  2. Referential processing It occurs when our verbal processing systems are activated by our non-verbal processing systems (this can also happen the other way around).

  3. Associative processing It occurs when we activate images or symbols that are contained within the verbal or non-verbal processing systems within our brain. (Papas, 2014, para. 5)

According to Papas (2014), if course content involves two different types of coding, instructional designers and instructors can increase the likelihood of learners being able to retain the information because of dual coding images and text.


Oliver Caviglioli, an educator and previous principal, has developed extensive content to support dual coding theory. As shared in Figure 1, Caviglioli (n.d.) presents on his website 12 examples of how to integrate dual coded content into PK-12 and higher education classrooms. Click on each of the 12 examples to access materials that can be used in courses across all formats (online, hybrid, face-to-face) to support instruction and learning. Caviglioli even provides background information on Allen Paivio’s research on dual coding theory (see Figure 2).


Figure 1

Oliver Caviglioli, Dual Coding Examples

Oliver Caviglioli - Dual Coding

Figure 2

Allen Paivio, Dual Coding Theory (Caviglioli, 2019) Note: From the book Dual Coding with Teachers, published by John Catt, May 2019

Allen Paivio - Dual Coding

Richard Mayer, a cognitive psychologist and Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is renowned for his research and contributions to Cognitive Theory of Multimedia. Mayer’s research explores the science of learning and human working memory. Cognitive theory of multimedia builds upon a dual channel assumption that includes a visual-pictorial channel (i.e., images) and an auditory-verbal channel (i.e., spoken words). Mayer’s research also explores limited-capacity assumption since each channel has a limited capacity for processing (Mayer, 2014). Figure 3 provides a detailed overview of Cognitive Theory of Multimedia and how it aligns with the human learn process. In the presentation “Designing Multimedia Instruction to Maximize Learning” Mayer explains Cognitive Theory of Multimedia and why it is so important for all educators.


Figure 3

Cognitive Theory of Multimedia, Richard Mayer, McGraw Hill, 2019

Richard Mayer - Cognitive Load

As you are designing your courses, activities, and assessment, it is critical to consider the human learning process and memory. Dual coding Theory and Cognitive Theory of Multi-Media provide evidence-based research to support instructional design and instruction. The question to ask is: What’s in your courses? Learn more about how INTERACT123 can support your work with designing courses to support learning and student success. Dr. Kristen Betts