Mouse pointing

Research and reports

Is mouse pointing helpful while studying digital material?

Resource Details

  • Written by

    Nora Preuss Mattsson

  • Read time

    2 min

Imagine you are back in school, studying for a biology exam and reading a textbook about plant cell structures and functions. The text refers to a picture illustrating all the different structures of the plant cell. To understand how plant cells work, you need to carefully study the text and integrate it with the information from the picture.

Dividing attention while studying can be mentally challenging and hamper learning. In educational psychology research, this phenomenon is called the split attention effect, which occurs when learners must divide their attention among multiple sources of information that are not spatially or temporally integrated.

Researchers from the Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands and the University of Wollongong in Australia investigated whether mouse pointing is an efficient strategy for learning from labeled and unlabeled split-attention materials. Mouse pointing can serve as an attentional anchor linking text and pictures. The authors tested 132 university students to find out whether mouse pointing would affect learning outcome and cognitive load.

Participants were presented with learning materials about synapse transmission in the human nervous system consisting of a text and an associated illustration. The pictures were either labeled or unlabeled, and some participants were instructed to use a mouse pointer to match the text with the picture, while others had to navigate without a mouse pointer. The participants’ eye movements were recorded using Tobii Pro Fusion eye tracker, which helped understand the underlying perceptual processes when learning from split-attention material. Tobii Pro Lab was used to record and analyze the eye tracking data.

The results showed that using mouse pointing or labeling items had no impact on learning outcomes or cognitive load. Interestingly, when mouse pointing and labeling were used together, they hindered comprehension. On the other hand, eye tracking data showed that both mouse pointing and labeling resulted in shorter fixation durations and fewer fixations on the text, and more transitions between text and picture. Based on these results, the researchers concluded that mouse pointing and labeling affect how information is perceived but do not influence cognitive processing when studying materials that require divided attention.

All in all, mouse pointing can direct the learner’s attention in a multimedia learning task. However, designers of online learning material should carefully use mouse pointing if a learning task already contains labels to guide attention, as increasing the complexity might have a negative effect on the learning process.

Cited publication

Zhang, S., de Koning, B. B., & Paas, F. (2023).
Effects of mouse pointing on learning from labeled and unlabeled split-attention materials: An eye-tracking study. Computers in Human Behavior, 143, 107673.

Read more

Interested in similar articles? Visit our scientific publication hub to see all our scientific publication highlights.

Resource Details

  • Written by

    Nora Preuss Mattsson

  • Read time

    2 min

    Resource type

    • Research and reports

    Tagged products

    • Eye trackers

    Tagged solutions

    • Scientific research


Related content

Person in a lab using Fusion eye tracker

Mobile eye tracking in physics education research

Dr. Stefan Küchemann shows how mobile eye tracking extends the range of possible eye tracking applications in physics education research and demonstrate underlying visual strategies during the generation process of visual representations and during experimentation.

Learn more