Instructional Design Models and Theories: Dual Coding Theory

Instructional Design Models and Theories Dual Coding Theory
Summary: The Dual Coding Theory was introduced by the Emeritus Professor of Psychology Allan Paivio in 1971.

The Quintessential of The Dual Coding Theory

According to the Dual Coding Theory, both verbal and non-verbal processing is essential for learning. It goes onto stipulate that there are two “cognitive subsystems” that help learners to process information that is being presented by the instructor or through the educational materials. One subsystem pertains to how the brain processes non-verbal events or scenarios (analogue codes), while the other deals with language within a learning environment (symbolic codes):

  • Analogue Codes are primarily used to store mental images of objects we've seen.
    In other words, they are accurate mental representations of the pictures or items that we encounter each day. For example, if you see a leaf on the ground or a flow chart in a textbook, your mind will store these images via analogue codes.
  • Symbolic Codes are mental images of words.
    When we hear a word, our mind stores it as a mental representation via symbolic codes. For example, when we think of the word “red”, we do not automatically think of the letters that make up the word, but the color itself. This also allows us to link certain words with unconventional meanings. For instance, if we are trying to figure out a mathematic problem, “y” represents a variable, while when we are reading a novel “y” represents a letter of the alphabet.

Essentially, all the information we collect throughout our lives is represented by both visual and verbal content. Via these processes, we are not only able to learn new information, but also to expand upon our already existing knowledge base. According to the Dual Coding Theory, there are two different information pathways within the learner's mind. When we acquire new information, our brain encodes the content and then it determines where and how this information will be stored, so it can be accessed later on, based on this coding system.

The 3 Types of Mental Processing Based on The Dual Coding Theory

According to the Dual Coding Theory, there are three distinct types of mental processing that occur during instruction. These are:

  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.

Applying The Dual Coding Theory

The Dual Coding Theory can be applied in instructional design by giving instructors an in depth look at just how the brain acquires new information. If instructional designers design lessons that involve the two different types of coding, they basically increase the likelihood of learners to retain the information, given that their mind will store it as a representation of both a verbal and non-verbal mental image that can be accessed at a later time.

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  • Dual-Coding Theory
  • Theories of Learning in Educational Technology
  • Paivio, A (1971). Imagery and verbal processes. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
  • Paivio, A (1986). Mental representations: a dual coding approach. Oxford. England: Oxford University Press.
  • Paivio, A. (1986). Mental representations: A dual coding approach. New York: Oxford University Press