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Jul 31 2017 - 08:00 PM
The Careful Balance of Cognitive Load

Have you ever felt the struggle to concentrate while reading a blog or an article with distracting ads popping up? Cognitive load theory posits that we only have a certain amount of mental capacity to process information at any given time. The amount of information we are able to process is not unlimited. Managing cognitive load is important for successful and efficient learning. While this may seem like a complex factor involved in learning, there are measures that can be used to assess cognitive load after a student engages with materials. Some of the ways cognitive load is measured are knowledge acquisition, rating of perceived task difficulty, doing two tasks at once (such as foot-tapping while learning), eye-tracking, and measuring pupil dilation.

This study varied participants’ cognitive load by introducing seductive details to heighten cognitive load during the learning process. Seductive details is the very alluring term for interesting additional information or media within a learning resource that is irrelevant to the learning goal. These details have been previously shown to have a detrimental effect on learning performance. In this study, a group of 50 university participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups: learning without seductive details and learning with seductive details. Students independently studied a multimedia learning program with 11 slides covering a biology topic. All students were taught the learning objective at the beginning of the task. The experimental, with seductive details, group was presented irrelevant, but interesting animated illustrations on two of their 11 slides. In addition to the cognitive load measures, learning was evaluated using a post-test.

Results from this experiment showed a significant relationship between cognitive load measures and learning success. Analysis of the study’s measures demonstrated that as participants struggled to manage their cognitive load, their ability to retain information in their working memory suffered. An increase in cognitive load led to a decrease in information processing, which affected learning performance.

This study indicates that it is important to develop clear learning goals ahead of creating learning resources. When creating learning resources and multimedia to meet learning goals, it is also important to minimize extraneous information processing. As educators design learning modules, they should consider making them less like ad-laden blogs and more like a carefully curated gallery of information.

Korbach, A., Brünken, R., & Park, B. (2015). Measurement of cognitive load in multimedia learning: A comparison of different objective measures. Instructional Science, 45(4), 1—22.

Image: by Lisa Zoe via Unsplash
|By: Caitlin Davey|715 Reads