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The internet era brought with it the most valuable asset possessed by humanity: knowledge. Information is abundant to anyone owning a desktop computer, laptop, or handheld device. Not all information represents valuable knowledge; we can receive conflicting information and find it hard to differentiate between useful and trivial content. Moreover, too much information can overload cognitive processes and renders the knowledge useless. This is because the brain has limited bandwidth for stocking new information. The same issue can appear in eLearning.
There's a growing need for efficiently discerning between what to include in an employee training course, and what should be left out. If the learner receives a content load that is too heavy, learning capacity peaks. Thus, it is important to present the learner with only the key concepts, the right amount of information, and in the right format.
To understand what cognitive overload means we first need to define what cognitive load means. According to the Cognitive Load Theory proposed by John Sweller, people have a maximum capacity for learning at any one time. It's like trying to fit two liters of water in a cup. At one point the cup will overflow and no more water can be contained by the cup.
The same thing happens with memory. Giving learners too much information, or delivering it at a higher speed than they are able to absorb, results in cognitive overload. After passing this knowledge absorption threshold, the learner's memory will not be able to stock any new information.
There are two types of memory and three types of cognitive loads. Memory is split between working memory (which takes in what you are learning right now) and long term memory (where the learned content settles to later be recalled when needed). Managing cognitive load can help working memory pass information into long-term memory. Sweller's CLT explains that every person displays three types of cognitive loads:
Germane cognitive load- this is the capacity of working memory to organize, categorize, and process learning frameworks. You'll want to provide learners with new information that makes heavy use of their germane capacities.
Extraneous cognitive load- this type of memory process gets activated by the method of information delivery. Instructional designers have complete control over extraneous loads so far as they present information in the simplest, most efficient way possible.
Intrinsic cognitive load- refers to the level of difficulty the learning material bears. Your instructional designer cannot alter the inherent difficulty of a subject but they can break it down into smaller, more easily digestible parts.
Giving learners too much information, or delivering it at a higher speed than they are able to absorb, results in cognitive overload. After passing this knowledge absorption threshold, the learner's memory will not be able to stock any new information.
There are ways to work around cognitive overload. Balancing germane with extraneous loads, while simplifying the intrinsic load can yield a highly absorbable learning content. To do this, your designer will need to:
Key concepts need to be explained in simple language. Take away any convoluted language, nonessential information, and elaborate explanations. What you are left with should be highly relevant content that helps the learner's working memory pass the information into the long-term memory. The learner will be able to activate their germane cognition processes and easily retain new information.
Chunking and microlearning are the perfect knowledge delivery methods for long-term recall. Breaking heavy concepts down into a series of specific lessons will allow learners the memory space and time to process the new information. This leads to a deeper understanding and the information will effortlessly pass into long-term memory.
Content delivery methods that mix visual, auditory, sensory, and kinesthetic learning have a higher chance of maximizing knowledge retention. People learn in different ways and your course presentation should include video, reading, interactive quizzes, and other such elements that make learning engaging and interactive.
Keep in mind that memory has two components and you'll need to organize information in an efficient way and mix your content delivery styles. This way you will maximize the amount of information that reaches long term memory.
Make a note of these tips to avoid cognitive overload and research more information about how to design eLearning to reduce cognitive overload. To discover the training options best for your employees, contact us for a free quote today!