Spatial Contiguity and Spatial Split-Attention Effects in Multimedia Learning Environments: a Meta-Analysis


Spatial split-attention effects have been noted in the research literature, where, under split-attention conditions, integrating text and diagrams has been shown to be effective. From this literature grew the spatial contiguity principle (or spatial contiguity effect), which states that people learn more when related words and pictures are displayed spatially near one another. Research has shown both effects to influence learning; however, little is known about the conditions in which integrated designs are most effective. This meta-analysis examines the influence of integrated designs across numerous moderator variables in order to improve our understanding of under which conditions integrated designs influence learning. A random effects meta-analysis of 58 independent comparisons (n = 2426) produced an overall effect size of g = 0.63 (p < 0.001). Moderator analyses indicated that integrated designs have benefited learning across many intervention-related and context-related moderator variables. Practical and theoretical implications of the findings are provided.

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  1. 1.

    In one study, there was not sufficient data to calculate an effect size estimate for the most delayed test. In this case, we used the next most delayed test.

  2. 2.

    In cases when it was not clear which test was the most delayed test, the average of the learning outcome tests was computed.

  3. 3.

    The redundancy variable for each study was coded by the first author during the manuscript revision process and is not included in this calculation.

  4. 4.

    Note that Ginns’ (2006) analysis examined both spatial and temporal contiguity effects together when reporting these effects.

  5. 5.

    While Sweller and Chandler (1994) outline procedures to estimate element interactivity, the procedure requires making assumptions about the individuals’ prior knowledge who were learning the material. Therefore, we coded the element interactivity as it was reported in the primary study.

  6. 6.

    It is important to note that in our analysis many of the coded studies were of relatively short durations, hence longer duration studies were coded as “more than 15 min” in length.

  7. 7.

    It should be noted that there are studies that used interactive, or self-guided, conditions included in this study (e.g., Gordon et al. 2016; Sithole et al. 2017); however, these specific conditions were not included in our analysis because they added a confounding variable that was eliminated by comparing other groups within the study.


*Indicates study included in the analysis

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Correspondence to Noah L. Schroeder.

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Schroeder, N.L., Cenkci, A.T. Spatial Contiguity and Spatial Split-Attention Effects in Multimedia Learning Environments: a Meta-Analysis. Educ Psychol Rev 30, 679–701 (2018).

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  • Spatial contiguity effect
  • Spatial contiguity principle
  • Split attention
  • Cognitive load
  • Meta-analysis