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Avoiding Cognitive Overload in Course Design

As instructional designers or faculty working on developing online content, it seems like we are presented with a virtual smorgasbord of choices for adding multimedia content to courses. We know adding multimedia resources to an online course is an important strategy for increasing learner engagement, addressing multiple learning styles, and making content comprehensible. Because multimedia resources are always so attractive, the danger comes when trying to determine how much is too much, and falling victim to the “kitchen sink” syndrome.

Types of Cognitive Load. Image courtesy of the The eLearning Coach.
Types of Cognitive Load. Image courtesy of the The eLearning Coach.

In her October 24, 2012 article for Learning Solutions Magazine, Angela van Barneveld reported on a study by Richard Mayer and Roxana Moreno titled Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning that has significant implications for eLearning designers.

As Ms. van Barneveld pointed out, “…just because you CAN add a whole lot of whiz-bang into your multimedia instruction doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Second, as instructional designers we have to know what cognitive requirements our learning designs impose and ensure that our learners can meet those requirements. We don’t want to distract the learners from the essential learning task at hand. All aspects of design should focus on adding value to the learning experience.”

Read more about making purposeful choices that impact student learning.