Research in Science Education

, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 685–704 | Cite as

When Do Pictures Help Learning from Expository Text? Multimedia and Modality Effects in Primary Schools

  • Simone Herrlinger
  • Tim N. HöfflerEmail author
  • Maria Opfermann
  • Detlev Leutner


Adding pictures to a text is very common in today’s education and might be especially beneficial for elementary school children, whose abilities to read and understand pure text have not yet been fully developed. Our study examined whether adding pictures supports learning of a biology text in fourth grade and whether the text modality (spoken or written) plays a role. Results indicate that overall, pictures enhanced learning but that the text should be spoken rather than written. These results are in line with instructional design principles derived from common multimedia learning theories. In addition, for elementary school children, it might be advisable to read texts out to the children. Reading by themselves and looking at pictures might overload children’s cognitive capacities and especially their visual channel. In this case, text and pictures would not be integrated into one coherent mental model, and effective learning would not take place.


Multimedia learning Multimedia effect Modality effect Elementary school children Split attention 



This paper was part of a project funded by the German Research foundation (DFG), grant no. LE 645/9-3.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simone Herrlinger
    • 1
  • Tim N. Höffler
    • 2
    Email author
  • Maria Opfermann
    • 3
  • Detlev Leutner
    • 3
  1. 1.Formerly Duisburg-Essen UniversityEssenGermany
  2. 2.IPN—Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education at the University of KielKielGermany
  3. 3.Duisburg-Essen UniversityEssenGermany

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