These are my Jumptags for September 4th

These are my Jumptags for July 22nd

Wikipedia defines cognitive load as “the load on working memory during instruction.” I usually refer to it this way: If your working memory is a bucket, then it can only hold so much stuff. So, filling up your bucket with unnecessary or unimportant stuff, leave less space for the critical stuff and the processing space necessary to work on it.

Rusy Old Bucket
Creative Commons License photo credit: Erlomo

Extraneous cognitive load then is bad all around. It’s not good cognitive load. It doesn’t help you learn. It doesn’t help you process. It doesn’t help you remember. It doesn’t even relate to the learning content in most cases. Instead, it fills up your bucket —read “increases cognitive load.”

One of the most obvious examples of extraneous cognitive load is poor interface usability. When we design a graphical user interface, poor usability forces the learner (user) to have to think about the interface. That is, they have to think about how to interact with the system. When they have to think, the bucket starts getting filled up. If some function in the interface doesn’t behave the way a learner expects it to, then the learner has to think about why and how do I do what I want to do. Working memory continues to be loaded.

Some examples might be in order here. I have seen other university faculty members’ courses that have animations (notice the plural), hyperlinks and supposedly “cute” graphics all on the same single web page. Admittedly, this is amateurish by professional standards. However, for me, the more serious offense is the inconsideration of what it means for learning and cognitive load. Taking a suggestion from “Web Pages that Suck,” a 2008 winner was the Burlington National UFO Center. Similarly, HavenWorks also has created an extraneous cognitive overload with poor layout, organization and unimportant elements. Admittedly, neither of these two sites are strictly instructional and I would never expect any corporate instructional designer to produce this type of development. However, the fact that these pages still exist confirm that learning and utility take a backseat to inexperience.

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