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eLearning Course: Maximizing Cognitive Learning Impact and Reducing Cognitive Overload

June 06, 2024 cognitive learning

Imagine that you are going through an online course, but instead of having a feeling that you are understanding and enjoying what you are learning, you feel like you are confused and unable to process the information. This state where learners find themselves overwhelmed is referred to as cognitive overload – a sneaky villain that lurks in the shadows of online learning. In such cases, cognitive learning doesn't happen in an expected manner.

This situation surfaces when learners have to go through multiple open tabs in a browser and understand many concepts at the same time. Add to this dense text blocks and lively discussions -- all vying for attention at once -- a perfect recipe for cognitive overload.  

This is just like a computer that is overloaded with multiple programs at once. Similarly, our working memory when overwhelmed can find it tough to focus, retain information, and actively participate in the learning process.

Let's now understand this situation when applied to soft skills training, especially in the case of emotional intelligence. Take, for example, individuals who have enrolled themselves in an online course based on emotional intelligence. They have done so assuming that they would decipher the complexities of human interaction or master the nuances of interpersonal exchange. 

But if the online course has information laid out in text form with very less examples and diagrams, the learners will drown in information overload -- cognitive overload. Thus, such learners may miss key concepts such as deciphering emotions in others. Hence, in turn, cognitive learning may not happen if complex information is presented in a convoluted way and this would hinder the knowledge-seekers’ ability to develop these essential soft skills.

Demystifying the Learning Labyrinth: A Peek into Cognitive Load Theory

Have you ever thought about why certain kinds of information remain in the brain effortlessly while others don't -- disappear like smoke signals? Well, the answer can be found in Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) which swoops in more like a friendly guide to illuminate the learning path which sometimes can be tough and add to the mental pressure.  

Precisely put, using CLT, it is possible to unravel the mysteries about how exactly do our minds assimilate, sift through, and treasure new knowledge -- so, no more feeling like lost in a fog of information overload (or cognitive overload). This also ensures that the taught information becomes a permanent resident in our mental attic. 

Also, CLT gives significant importance to the concept of cognitive load -- which is nothing but, essentially, the amount of mental effort employed to juggle information within the working memory. 

You can better understand it by imagining a bustling marketplace having limited space; but there are too many incoming people that enter the place at the same time, creating a chaotic scenario.  

In short words, when it comes to our working memory capacity (cognitive learning), it is finite and can only handle a few pieces of information at once.

Hence, this inherent limitation of ours can throw a monkey wrench when it comes to presenting information for assimilation in an online course. 

To overcome this situation, there is a necessity for taking a tightrope walk carefully between cognitive overload (something that has the potential to fry learners' brains) and an underwhelming trickle that can leave learners wanting for more information to comprehend a subject matter comprehensively! 

With these in view, eLearning courseware has to be crafted such that it tantalizes the mind, leaving knowledge clinging along, and cognitive overload doesn't take place.

A Glimpse at Different Techniques of Applying CLT in eLearning Courseware

Online Learning courses can, sometimes, throw information at learners like a fire hose and that overload can hinder learning. But, thankfully, Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) when incorporated in eLearning can offer a path to crafting engaging cognitive learning experiences among the knowledge seekers. CLT's focus lies on how to assess and manage multiple demands placed on learners' memory -- a form of the brain's scratchpad that is utilized for processing information and storing it for a long time.

Here's how CLT principles, when cleverly harnessed in eLearning courseware, can elevate your soft skills training to new heights -- without putting any kind of cognitive load:

Bite-Sized Content (Microlearning):
Suppose trainees have to undergo training sessions on a complex topic like conflict resolution -- a sprawling maze. In such cases, instead of burdening learners with content full of text, it makes sense to break it down into bite-sized modules. 

These units can be like delectable learning morsels, with each module focusing on a specific skill such as active listening or maybe, deciphering nonverbal cues. This way the technique of slicing the given information into small digestible pieces reduces cognitive load and makes the cognitive learning journey less daunting.

Visuals -- Your Secret Weapon: At certain times, when text-heavy content (without adequate examples and diagrams) dominates a course, it turns into an adversary of effective learning.  

This can be compared to an overwhelming experience that doesn't help cognitive learning but quickly leads to cognitive overload. Thus, it is very essential to infuse teaching/training content with sufficient captivating visuals like infographics along with short, sweet videos, including interactive simulations. 

Importantly, visuals when utilized can not only break up any form of text monotony but also activate different parts of the brain, which can boost learning and information retention.

Wouldn't it be great if an animation is interweaved in eLearning courseware to illustrate varied communication ways, like passive vs aggressive styles?  

Similarly, a bite-sized video can be used for depicting conflict resolution techniques in action in incredibly engaging ways.  

The Power of Participation -- Interactive Activities:

Just as it happens in traditional classrooms, eLearning courses can incorporate a more dynamic approach by the inclusion of interactive activities like quizzes, polls, and real-world case studies -- keeping learners actively engaged.  

A perfect example would be: a scenario-based quiz where employees are asked to face a challenging client interaction, wherein they have to strategically choose the most effective communication approach -- option-based cognitive learning strategy. 

These interactive activities, far from being dry lectures, serve like engaging exercises -- knowledge chisels. They not only etch concepts into learners’ minds deeply -- solidifying their understanding, but they also help to find out chinks in their knowledge armor -- these are the areas where a bit of extra support might be needed.

Learners will find it highly useful if cognitive learning strategies such as CLT are implemented that help to reduce cognitive overload in eLearning courseware.

If you as a school, university, or company want to include cognitive learning techniques to avoid cognitive load, you can approach VK Creative Learning.

June 06, 2024