A single drop of information is better than a bucketful.
A common error in course development is to burden the learner with too many facts and lengthy explanations. People will remember more if they are given less.It is best to pare your online learning down to the necessary essentials.
Expert vs. Novice
It is often tempting to write online courses that consist of a knowledge dump. This is particularly true if you are a subject matter expert or if you are working closely with a subject matter expert. When someone is an expert in a particular field, their minds literally work differently than those of novices. Generally, experts are able to quickly see patterns, to deduce cause and effect and to solve problems. In contrast, novices are often working at a level where they do not yet see the connections between concepts. Novices can be easily overwhelmed.
Working Memory Has Limits
Working memory is the cognitive space where people process information and connect it to their network of knowledge. It is known to have a limited capacity and limited duration. People can process around three to four bits of information at once. Also, information quickly deteriorates in working memory.
Because of this, learners can quickly reach a state where the demands on working memory, or the cognitive load, are greater than the ability to manage the information. When the load is too great, a learner will most likely fail to understand an idea or will misinterpret it. Certainly, the learner will not have the required space to process the information and transfer it into long-term memory. So when it comes to course design, think in terms of single drops rather than buckets.
How to Avoid High Cognitive Load
Here are five ways to avoid creating a high cognitive load in your online learning courses:
- Limit information to what is needed to support a new skill.
- Allow learners space for absorbing new facts and concepts.
- Organize information into small chunks.
- Provide opportunities for learners to make the content meaningful to them through practice and discussion.
- Slow down the pace of instruction and/or let learners control the pace of instruction.
- Review all the content you want to present and then remove everything that isn’t required to close the gap.