How design guides learning from matrix diagrams

Jan van der Meij*, Marije Amelsvoort, Anjo Anjewierden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
117 Downloads (Pure)


Compared to text, diagrams are superior in their ability to structure and summarize information and to show relations between concepts and ideas. Perceptual cues, like arrows, are expected to improve the retention of diagrams by guiding the learner towards important elements or showing a preferred reading sequence. In our experiment, we analyzed how students studied four different versions of informationally equivalent, but differently organized matrix diagrams on personality disorders. The diagram consisted of four header cells on top and four on the left, organizing the content into 16 body cells around four types of personality disorders and four categories within each type. Arrows connected the cells either from left to right or top-down. Participants were 81 university students. We found that the participants mainly studied the diagram based on the four types of personality disorders and that the arrows did not guide initial reading behavior. A post-test with retention questions showed that the participants performed better on the questions that focused on types than on the questions that focused on categories, regardless of the condition they were in. Our study has shown that in matrix diagrams the conceptual information guided reading behavior more than the orientation of the diagram and perceptual cues.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)751-767
Number of pages17
JournalInstructional science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • Eye-tracking
  • Matrix diagrams
  • Perceptual cues
  • Representations


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