Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How to Combat Cognitive Overload with Connie Malamed #ASTDTK12

My live notes from session at ASTDTK12 with @elearningcoach.

Long term memory is like a server farm.

We can hold 4-5 bits of info in working memory (this is based on newer researcher – the old info was 7 +/- 2 bits…)

Rather than concentrate on pushing facts on our learners, we should concentrate on what they have to DO. Give them small bits of info.

Long term memory – as far as we know, it’s infinite. It stores info in schemas.

Often we can’t remember something is because we don’t have the right retrieval cue --


collection of generic properties about a concept or category – it’s how we organize info.

Write down three notions when you think of comic books: stories, cartoons, superheroes (those are mine)

In some cases, your audience is going to have the same schemas as you – in some cases, not.


We form schemas in working memory. We then bring them into long-term memory.

But to understand something, we have to bring it back from long-term memory to working memory.

Working memory is very vulnerable to overload.= high cognitive load (which leads to poor comprehension and obstructs learning)

Cognitive load affected by # of interacting elements.

This is a framework – haven’t discovered an anatomical structure in the brain…


Source of load matters:

germane CL (devoted to processing information, construction and automating schemas)

intrinsic cl (not much we can do about it)

extraneous cl (imposed by the manner in which information is presented to learners – this is what I call “clicky-clicky bling-bling” –this is what we can control!)


If you present info with big words that people have to interpret, you’re imposing high cognitive load.


If we can eliminate the extrinsic load, we help the learner.

Our jobs:

  • help learners construct schemas to free working memory capacity – give them a clean network.
  • automate schemas to free w.m. capacity (most adults don’t have to think about how to read while a kindergartener has to work hard; procedural memory gets automated)

Remember the difference between novice (clumsy, error-prone, slow, difficult) and expert (skilled and fluid, they have lots of schemas, it’s smooth and effortless). Help people construct schemas so it can become effortless.

The Five Moments of Need (Google it…) – bring this list to your SME meetings – when will the learner NEED this information?

(More than half of the audience works in small teams  of 3-4 to build elearning.  Today we do more with less).

Ways to combat cognitive overload:

  • Make the learning meaningful – so they can understand it, make it relevant to what you’re doing in the workplace, connected to the network of schemas)
  • Help create schemas – refer to previous knowledge because it’s like giving them free schemas – so they can build on something they already know – always remind learners of what they already know. This increases working memory capacity. And if they can connect it existing schemas, it will help them retrieve it later more easily.  Use analogies: “a database is like a file drawer system…”

    The expertise reversal effect: (avoid redundancy for experts) – if you treat an expert like a novice, it taxes their working memory. They’re getting drawn down to the novice level guidance. They have their own rich schemas and you’re just messing with it. So remove redundant info, guidance and prompts for experts. Provide resources for informal learning.
  • Add meaningful learning to the training – solve real-world problems, case studies and worked examples.
  • Chunk and organize information
  • Give learners an overview – a mindmap for a visual audience – that’s where learning objectives came from – an advanced organizer (but now everyone just skips the objectives screens!)
  • Streamline your multimedia – keep attention focused (avoid split attention: learners watch a video and then have to read separate text bullets…instead present words as narration rather than onscreen text! if not using audio, integrate text with animation or video)…you can’t have two different things going on the screen!
  • Use simple graphics – you can replace text with graphics. people learn better from simple line drawings than complex photos….

I couldn’t stay for the entire session…apologies for abbreviated session notes, but hope this is helpful!


Unknown said...

Thank you so much for sharing this, Cammy! Very useful, indeed. In case you haven´t come across it yet, I´d like to share with you a very interesting article related to this topic "Research on Cognitive Load Theory and Its
Design Implications for E-Learning" by van Merriƫnboer and Ayres (2005) Regards, Mayra

Darlene Christopher said...

Thanks for these great notes! I couldn't get to Connie's session, and now I can read all about it.