Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

Can Strategies Facilitate Learning from Illustrated Science Texts?

Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

Can Strategies Facilitate Learning from Illustrated Science Texts?

Article excerpt

Illustrations are frequently used in science texts at every level. In fact, at the elementary through college levels most science texts have several illustrations on each page. Aside from enhancing aesthetic appeal, does this preponderance of illustrations really help students to learn better? If so, can students be taught strategies which help them to more effectively from illustrated science texts?

Research indicates that illustrated text is more memorable over the long term that unillustrated text (Peeck, 1989, Levie & Lentz, 1982). Furthermore, novices in a domain can be helped by illustrations which provide conceptual models of the material being learned about, while experts in that domain are not helped as much (Mayer, 1989). Other research indicates that experts, or high-mechanical-ability readers use diagrams to encode new information not referred to in text, or to compensate for deficiencies in text while low-mechanical-ability subjects, or novices, appear to use diagrams to verify each clause as they read, presumably to develop an initial representation (Hegarty & Just, 1989).

Obviously, illustrations can be more useful for certain kinds of readers than others, and, as Tierney and Cunningham (1984) suggest, consideration needs to be given to reader, text, and situational variables that contribute to the utility of illustrations. Their comments clearly point out clearly one of several difficulties in this line of research: the lack of the use of multiple dependent measures to assess different types of learning. Levin (1989) addresses this by calling for an awareness of possible aptitude-treatment-interactions in designing research in this area.

A second problem with the research in this area is the lack of a way to equate or systematically compare illustrations so that findings from a single study or set of studies can be generalized beyond the particular illustrations used in that study to other types of diagrams and subject matter. Finally, much of the research lacks a formal theoretical basis. In fact, as Peeck (1989) argues, Paivio's (1975) concept of dual coding is the primary reference to theory in this area. The need for a theoretical perspective which can be applied to an understanding of how people comprehend and combine material from text and illustrations into a single representation is crucial for driving future research and perhaps even for understanding some of the rather equivocal findings emerging from existing research.

In order to address some of these issues, van Dijk and Kintsch's (1983; Kintsch, 1998) model of text comprehension will be applied specifically to the area of illustrated text. Then, a study will be presented which investigates the effects of training college students to learn from illustrated science text more effectively by providing them with techniques (schema training) for systematically categorizing and processing four typical kinds of illustrations and two text-illustration relationships.


van Dijk and Kintsch's (1983; Kintsch, 1998) model of text comprehension can account for learning from illustrated text. They proposed that representation of textual material takes place at several levels including: the verbatim level, the textbase or propositional level, and the situational or episodic level. The situational level, or situation model, cart be equated with the knowledge a person already has and brings to bear upon understanding a text, as well as the final representation based on integrating information from the text with one's existing knowledge about a topic.

As van Dijk and Kintsch (1983) stated, "It is frequently the case that information from textual and nontextual sources must be integrated. The situation model, which may be modified either through direct perception and action, or through a discourse, provides a much needed link between modalities" (p. …

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