Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cognitive Load Basics ... or... Let's Not Make This Harder Than It Has To Be

Cognitive load is one of those things that makes a huge difference to your e-learning. But, unfortunately, not a lot of instructional designers have a good grasp on how what they do impacts the cognitive loads their learners must bear.

Human beings have a limited amount of working memory to use, period. How much working memory they have to use when interacting with learning materials depends on the cognitive load demands of the instruction. There are three kinds of cognitive load: intrinsic, extraneous, and germane.

Intrinsic load is the load that is caused by the student having to understand what the content is about. When  a student is new to the subject area, content will have a very high intrinsic load. Why? Well, the student doesn't know what any of the terminology means. So she will have to learn all of that. And she probably doesn't have a schema in place, so she had to figure out what is important, what is repeating, how things should be organized. And she might have to do this at the same time as she is trying to learn the content. When you see a student furiously taking notes -- no -- not taking notes, taking dictation, you are looking at a student who suffering under a huge intrinsic load.

Extraneous load is load we add to content that really needn't be there. Poorly designed UIX is a major culprit. If the student has to decipher the interface, she is using processing power for that that she can't use for learning. Other things that can add extraneous load are poorly organized content, graphics that just are there to be pretty, but don't add anything to the content, and extra content that doesn't support the learning outcomes. Extraneous load is something we can definitely do something about.

Germane load is the load caused by the student actually learning. It's the good load. The idea is to reduce intrinsic and extraneous load to make room for germane load.

The big names in cognitive load theory (CLT) are John Sweller, Jeroen  J.G. van Merrienboer, and Fred G.W.C. Paas. One of their early works was "Cognitve Architecture and Instructional Design". If you would like to read it (and believe me -- you WANT to!) you can see it here:


Paul Cormier said...

Interesting....applying this theory to learning using technology as a medium will distort the process given the limitations of the technology and the limitations of the individual's learning style?

Post a Comment