Learn In A Minute: Cognitive Load

Learn in a Minute with Jamie

Learn in a Minute is hosted by Jamie Good, employee experience designer at Enable Education. Gain quick lessons, hacks, observations, and pearls of wisdom that you can use to engage, enlighten, and enable your staff and clients.

Bearing The Load

If you’re thinking “I have too much on my mind”, you’re probably right. Every day we get bombarded with information from multiple channels: email, text messages, the news, social media, and ads (just to name a few). We’re busier than ever! But how does this mental load influence our brain’s ability to retain information?

There is such a thing as too much cognitive load. One of the first conferences I attended took place in Niagara Falls, at a conference hotel adjacent to a casino. Happy to network, I followed the big group of attendees into the casino (also an experience I’d never had). The casino was truly an assault to the senses: bright lights everywhere, sounds galore, and lots of oxygen! I was overwhelmed and so was my brain. I had no idea how long I had spent in that casino until I looked at my phone (no clocks in a casino either—ingenious!).

While your day to day might not be spent in a casino, the constant influx of information has the same effect: your brain is bearing a heavy load of information. How can we give our cognitive function a hand and lighten the load?

Lightening The Load

An easy way to lighten cognitive load is to keep matters simple. During a presentation, workshop, training session, or a lecture, you have one main goal: help your audience learn as much information as possible. Multimedia presentations themselves can be filled with extraneous factors that would burden the cognitive load. When creating a presentation, use clean visuals, keep your language plain, and use storytelling to enhance the learning experience. Here are some other ways in which we can increase our audience’s learning, by decreasing their cognitive load:

  • Follow the five main multimedia design principles and tips, described in detail here;
  • Give your participants a break. Our brains need time to process and store new information into long-term memory;
  • Evaluate your session. Can it be broken down into smaller, easier to digest segments?
  • Make it interactive! Not only does it give participants a break from listening, but it helps them consolidate information by discussing it with peers;
  • Encourage attendees to summarize the main points in their own words. Generating the information ourselves makes it more memorable!

Take A Load Off!

Now you know how you can help your audience absorb more information in your learning scenario. However, what if your participants have five such scenarios per day? How can they keep track of the load from their work, personal life, and new learning sessions? The answer is simple: they don’t have to!

While we can lighten our brain’s load, we can also help it by offloading information. Using tools such as calendars, to-do lists, and notes, we make sure the information we need to know is recorded. It’s like having a memory system outside of your brain. If you offload the information, you might not remember it very well, but you have a record of it anyway! Cognitive offloading helps our brains “make room” for new information

Humans have a limited working memory capacity. Here at Enable Education, we use a variety of tools to help our learners achieve optimal levels of cognitive load, such as shortening long lectures into skill-specific videos, redefining big blocks of text into keywords and headers in slides, and providing a teleprompter to help presenters deliver messages without having to memorize a script. We also provide templates and worksheets to our clients to help organize their ideas.

What kind of cognitive offloading tools do you or your company swear by? How would you help someone else reduce their cognitive load? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. 

Header graphic for Cognitive Load blog post, shows a person's shoulders but their head is replaced with a chaos of colour and images.

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