Final Dual-Coding Theory: The Science Behind Video

Dual-Coding Theory: The Science Behind Video

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Did you know that our brains are wired in a way that allows us to learn through video? The Dual-Coding Theory, first hypothesized by Allan Paivio in 1971, states that imagery aids learning, and cognitive processes relate to verbal and non-verbal stimuli. 

In effect, when we learn, we are encoding our brains in two ways, with verbal and sensory cues, thus allowing for both systems to aid learning. The dual coding hypothesis has initiated many further studies since its beginnings, and we have the research to validate it. 

Simply summed up, learning about Dual-Coding Theory will:

  • teach you how we process information through video
  • enhance your methods of learning via video
  • help you understand how video facilitates learning

“A Dual-Coding Perspective on Encoding Processes”

Considering the title of this subsequent study, “A Dual-Coding Perspective on Encoding Processes” by Allan Paivio and co-written by James M Clark, the keyword in the title is ‘encoding’. Dual-Coding theory proposes that we encode information either visually or through non-verbal means (through the senses). 

The study was initiated to further examine visualization and what role it had alongside language processes.

Consider it a model proposed to describe the encoding processes we engage in when learning. It’s not about imagery alone, it’s about the role of visual and non-visual input that is part of the cognitive process. 

It’s the encoding of word and object information, and shows connections that exist between what we sense, what we hear, what we read, and how our brains process, encode, and recode stimuli. 

Applying Dual-Coding Theory to Video

How can we apply dual-coding theory to video? Unpacking the theory and putting it into practice means looking at how our processing systems work, noting how movement holds attention, and seeing how learners engage with the material. 

Our processing systems, though not identical in every person, function to process the stimuli we receive. Some of us might only take in verbal stimuli, while for others, non-verbal stimuli might be more predominant. The theory states that though two separate systems are in place, they do refer to each other, and there are other associations coming from these connections. 

Let’s dig a little deeper into the science to see how we can apply the theory to video to see why it is so effective.

How Our Processing Systems Work

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Clark and Paivio state that logogens are verbal representations and imagens are imaginal representations. Both are involved in three levels of processing: 

  1. Representational processes

These processes take in stimuli, verbal or non-verbal, and connect it to the next processes. In the process of connecting, it is activating other processes, whether they are verbal or non-verbal. Thus, words activate logogens, and images activate imagens.

  1. Referential processes

These are connections between verbal stimuli and non-verbal stimuli. You learn a new word and see an image that represents that word. The word ‘table’ refers to the image ‘table’, for example. 

  1. Associative processes

These function within their own systems. The imagens connect to other imagens, and logogens connect to other logogens within the system. Criticisms of Dual-Coding theory suggest we don’t know how these associative processes function.

dual coding theory

Take a look at the diagram above. What it shows is that non-verbal and verbal processes are separate from each other.Their associative structures are distinct, as are the responses that come from those areas, but there are referential connections between the two areas. 

Despite being their own systems, they are interconnected. Let’s say you’re learning a new concept, and in your method of learning you see a visual that demonstrates the concept while listening to an explanation. You are coding both the image and the explanation through these systems. These interconnections, however, may be difficult to separate as many cognitive processes may overlap. 

If the word is not abstract, but concrete, the word and the picture of it get learned together, which maximizes the chance of long-term recall. Seeing a picture of an animal while learning its name means you’re more likely to remember it. 

How Movement Holds Attention

Thomas Edison is said to have predicted that motion pictures would replace the use of textbooks. Does Dual-coding explain how learning through video is effective? Yes, the brain is attracted to movement. To be precise, vision allows for attention to movement. 

From infancy, our visual representations start in the eyes and travel back to the cortex in the brain. There is no direct line from the eye to the cortex, however. What we have is information getting split into different parts of the cortex. The result is newer neural pathways that reflect the new information the brain has received. 

Studies have shown that visually learnt information can be detected in the cortex in functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) scans.

In video learning, both visual and non-visual processes are active. Using an fMRI scan, researchers can see where blood flow goes in the cerebrum, thereby showing where brain activity is. It’s this scan that can show which parts of the brain are used during learning. 

How Learners Engage With The Material

What subsequent and inter-related studies show us is that the graphics in video are key to learner engagement. It is not a static system in need of superhuman concentration, instead, video is a dynamic way of presenting information. 

One particular study found that when graphics were used, students were able to have more attention, show more interest, and engage more with the lesson. The results were that students could remember more of the content that had graphics in it. 

Would there be a difference between motion graphics and live action? Motion graphics have moving animated images, while live action is a video recording. According to the dual-coding theory and subsequent research, both forms are effective.

Further to this, the same study revealed that seeing the instructor’s face in the video improved engagement and learning outcomes. Could this be why talking-head style videos are so popular? Our brains may well be wired to focus on the face when taking in information. Studies have also shown that we do see faces in objects, because we are wired to find faces in our environments. 

Supporting Dual-Coding Theory

Since gaining traction with further studies over the last few decades, there are a number of studies that either support Dual-Coding theory or use it as part of research. 

  • The Concreteness Effect

This theory has Dual-Coding within its framework. 

  • Bilingual Studies

Research into Bilingualism supports the Dual-Coding Theory

  • Paired Associate Learning

This technique uses Dual-Coding in its approach

Concreteness Effect

The dual coding theory is used to support the concreteness effect, which shows that concrete nouns are easier to memorize than abstract nouns, as concrete nouns usually have an image for association. Thus, we have further evidence of a dual coding that occurs with learning. A word and picture are easier to remember than just the word alone.

Research indicates that the dual-coding theory shows that the right hemisphere and a verbal system with concrete words form an advantage in a learning environment. Basically, the right hemisphere is in charge of our attention, reasoning, memory, and problem solving abilities. 

When you learn a word that describes an object, you activate areas in the right hemisphere of your brain. Your attention is activated as well as your memory. Though this serves to support the concreteness effect, it also gives weight to the Dual-Coding theory.


In Bilingual language acquisition, we also find support for Dual-Coding theory. Here we have another verbal system that links to imagery. When learners acquire a second language, there are two verbal systems that link to the same visual in the memory. 

When a bilingual person sees an object, they can retrieve two words for that image, showing that the verbal and visual systems are distinct but still refer to each other.

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Paired Associate Learning

Imagine learning two words together. When being asked to recall those words, if a learner remembered them together, it shows that the encoding happened in tandem. In the test for paired learning, you get words paired, images paired, and an image and a word. Results are significant for word/image pairs.

Paired Associate Learning uses a Dual-Coding approach when word/image pairs are part of the approach, and in so doing, it supports the existence of this model.  

Undermining The Dual-Coding Theory

Are there limitations of dual coding theory? There are suggestions that not everyone could learn by a verbal or non-verbal system, and that there could also be another cognitive process or system at work when we are learning. 

We could then argue that Dual-Coding theory does not explain how everyone learns. There are those who do not use imagery at all. Aphantasia is one example. People with aphantasia do not visualize, thus their learning systems do not have that referential process. Yet, people with aphantasia are still capable of learning.

Common Coding Theory

In common coding theory, perceptions and motor representations tie together. Instead of learning through visuals and verbal systems, it suggests we learn through perceiving and acting.  

The power of imagination is in the mirror neuron. What research shows is that just imagining an act can activate the same areas as performing the act. 

Perhaps this form of learning is what non-visual learners use as their main processing system. Humans, however, are not computers, and no brain is identical, thus whatever model you apply, there would be exceptions. 

Examples of Dual-Coding Theory in (Video) Learning

As video learning is on the rise, there are many options for online curriculums and education programs. Utilizing the research to create learning materials that best facilitate learning is how dual-coding theory has been applied to learning. 

What we know from this theory is that using both verbal and non-verbal systems can optimize the learning process. 

In videos on YouTube such as this one, there are techniques shown that can be used in videos to increase learner engagement and use both verbal and non-verbal systems.

In the lesson, you can use:

  1. Timeline tasks where you move images into a sequence
  2. Interactive tasks where you label worksheets
  3. Combined visuals, text, and audio, where students need to find, explain or draw images.  

Advantages of dual-coding theory in video include maximizing learning outcomes in education and business. There are many applications of dual-coding theory in E-learning today. By incorporating varied stimuli in the learning process, you get better learning outcomes. 

Dual-Coding Theory - Why It’s the Science Behind the Video

The science behind the video shows that the human brain can learn from both verbal and visual systems, as best described by the Dual-Coding theory. 

Though there are some limitations, which may or may not depend on the individual and their learning styles, the advantages of incorporating Paivio’s dual-coding theory into a curriculum are numerous. 

The brain seems to learn best when verbal and non-verbal stimuli are presented in the learning process, whether in the classroom or in a video. That said, video might end up being better for learning in our modern world. Applying dual-coding theory means you make better videos that are more conducive to long-term recall. 

Remember, when learning through video, start with core concepts that can be seen and heard. Always ensure that learning outcomes are set and understood, and use association to make pairs - your brain will thank you for it. 

Our ancestors learned about the world from each other using language and their senses. We do the same in the modern world, but we also have video, and as we can see, not only for entertainment, but for learning too.