A couple of years ago I submitted a sample interaction to an E-Learning Heroes Challenge related to Instructional Design Principles. The interaction sought to explain cognitive load theory. You can check out the full interaction by Clicking Here.
Within the university I see a ton of cognitive overload happening, albeit unintentional. When faculty members use their online course site as a repository, I look at it feeling very overwhelmed and set about organizing the content appropriately to ensure students don’t feel as overwhelmed as I do.
Cognitive Load Theory
In the early 80s, John Sweller coined the phrase ‘cognitive load theory’, which represents the total amount of brain power being used in a given task. Basically the exertion associated with working memory and how much effort is required to employ working memory.
In order to be most efficient with cognitive load, individuals must appropriately balance information presented to the audience in order to enhance overall information retention. There are three types of cognitive load:
- Intrinsic – this represents the level of difficulty (e.g. complex math problem versus basic math problem).
- Extraneous – this represents how the information is provided (e.g. is the information need to know or nice to know? If nice to know, you may want to leave it out to enhance retention).
- Germane – this represents how easily a learner can process the information for which they’ve been provided.
Keeping these three types of cognitive load in mind will allow you to optimize your content and enhance the overall learning experience. As an educator, you want your students to succeed, and pummelling them with information to get a simple concept across is not always the best approach. You need to put yourself in the shoes of your learners and simplify concepts as much as possible to ensure student success.
Have you been overloaded with content? How did this shape your learning experience and academic achievement? Let me know in the comments!