In two minds

This is number 32 in my series on learning theories. Psychologists and cognitive scientists have offered a number of useful theories that aid our understanding of learning. In this series I'm providing a brief overview of each theory, and how each can be applied in education. Previous posts in this series are all linked below. My last post explored  the work of Seymour Papert and his theory of learning by making, also known as constructionism. In this post we return to the cognitive domain, with an examination of Allan Paivio's theory of dual coding. As usual, this is a brief and concise explanation of the theory, and if you wish to delve deeper, you are advised to read the associated literature.

The Theory

Paivio's dual coding theory considers the way we process verbal and non-verbal information. In 1986 he stated: 'Human cognition is unique in that it has become specialized for dealing simultaneously with language and with nonverbal objects and events. Moreover, the language system is peculiar in that it deals directly with linguistic input and output (in the form of speech or writing) while at the same time serving a symbolic function with respect to nonverbal objects, events, and behaviors. Any representational theory must accommodate this dual functionality.' (p 53). Paivio's model of cognition featured two modes of processing, known as imagens (images) and logogens (words), which are illustrated below.

Visual and verbal information are processed in different ways along discrete pathways in the brain, and these are thought to create different mental representations. In a variety of experiments, it was found that people can generally process images faster than text, and can make quicker and smarter decisions when presented with pictures than they can with verbal instructions.

How it can be applied in education

Teachers should be aware that all students can process information in several different ways. Looking at images can evoke a different response to listening to the spoken word, or reading text. Giving children pictures and words in combination can provide them with the best chances to learn concepts. If Paivio's theory is correct, and verbal and image storage of information occur in separate areas of the human brain, then retention (and retrieval) of that information should be stronger (and faster) if both memory traces have been established. The teaching of literacy for example, can be greatly enhanced when children receive verbal, text and imagery based information simultaneously. Thus literacy learning can encompass reading, writing, speaking and listening. Dual Coding theory also explains why multi-media forms of education have been so successful in the past, although alternative cognitive processing theories that feature later in this series challenge this view.


Paivio, A. (1986) Mental Representations. New York: Oxford University Press.

Previous posts in this series:

1.  Anderson ACT-R Cognitive Architecture
2.  Argyris Double Loop Learning
3.  Bandura Social Learning Theory
4.  Bruner Scaffolding Theory
5.  Craik and Lockhart Levels of Processing
6.  Csíkszentmihályi Flow Theory
7.  Dewey Experiential Learning
8.  Engeström Activity Theory
9.  Ebbinghaus Learning and Forgetting Curves
10. Festinger Social Comparison Theory
11. Festinger Cognitive Dissonance Theory
12. Gardner Multiple Intelligences Theory
13. Gibson Affordances Theory
14. Gregory Visual Perception Hypothesis
15. Hase and Kenyon Heutagogy
16. Hull Drive Reduction Theory
17. Inhelder and Piaget Formal Operations Stage
18. Jung Archetypes and Synchronicity
19. Jahoda Ideal Mental Health
20. Koffka Gestalt theory
21. Köhler Insight learning
22. Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle
23. Knowles Andragogy
24. Lave Situated Learning
25. Lave and Wenger Communities of Practice
26. Maslow Hierarchy of Human Needs
27. Merizow Transformative Learning
28. Milgram Six Degrees of Separation
29. Milgram Obedience to Authority
30. Norman The design of everyday things
31. Papert Constructionism

Photo by Steve Wheeler 
Graphic by Instructional Design

Creative Commons License

In two minds by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Ola Vea said…
Wow! THAT is what I call an understandable explanation. Thank you Mr. Wheeler.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks Ola. I aim to please :)

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