Learning with multiple representations is a highly demanding cognitive process because learners have to build referential connections between externally presented representations in order to construct a coherent mental representation. Several approaches for supporting coherence formation have been examined, which can be assigned to two types of helping strategies: first, learners can be assisted in recognising corresponding elements and structures on a surface feature level (e.g. by hyperlinking). Second, they can be supported on a deep structure level (i.e. by explaining the relations of corresponding structures more or less explicitly). In a 2 × 2 experimental study the effects on learning performance and cognitive load of both types of help were compared. Results show that coherence formation can be efficiently supported by deep structure level help (DLH) especially in combination with surface level help (SLH). Hyperlinks seem to guide learners' attention to relevant connections that are additionally explained by the deep structure help. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.