I have been very interested in John Sweller’s Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) for some time now and try to consider it in all I do as an online educational designer. It is not always something that we consider carefully enough in our designing for online learning or blended learning. However, if we value the key position that accessibility guidelines take in online design I believe we should also value cognitive load theory as well to the same extent. It could be said that there are many similarities and key considerations to be made in both cognitive load theory, accessibility and heuristic evaluations (Jakob Nielsen). The below presentation was uploaded on Scribd by Lindsay Malecek and is a fantastic exploration of CLT and a valuable breakdown of the decisions we can make when designing for online learning.
To me it’s like this: Would you try to do 4 unit mathematics homework whilst listening to heavy metal music? Would you try writing an essay about DNA replication whilst watching a musical? Ok, so maybe you would but would it be a quality learning environment? I did many assignments in fourth year uni in front of the television and I still tend to do work at home or other similar tasks whilst watching TV, however, CLT suggest that his mix is not optimal for quality learning. In these examples above intrinsic load would be high as there would be much processing and organizing or words and digits and therefore, extraneous load would need to be low to accommodate the learner.
How do these apply to blended learning, online learning and even face-to-face learning? Well, when dealing with complex content and requiring detailed and thoroughly tough out responses, don’t let there be anything that could detract or distract from that. I like the fact that the presentation talks about not having animations and music in Powerpoint slides, it is very distracting. Visually, I believe that when presenting content, the interface should remain clean and not cluttered with unnecessary links, borders, images or other items that might also distract students from reading and digesting content further.
When considering these theories, I also consider how I have learned best over the years and still continue to learn and it is a valuable activity to just stop and ponder what learning experiences you struggled with because you were distracted by something or felt overwhelmed cognitively. What was that learning experience? What were you trying to learn? Why was it difficult to learn? What impacted on your uptake of new information?
Will continue to ponder these myself….