Sure you have!
We all have. It’s that day when our learners just ‘get it’. The day when they ask beautiful questions and think deeply about the application of concepts. Educators LOVE days like this. In my world, a day like this would leave me completely energized for the next day of instruction, and I would be known for staying up late into the night revising my lesson plans for the next day.
The next day we walk into our classrooms armed with our lessons ready to teach. We excitedly pose the question, “remember yesterday, when we were discussing ________________. Who can get us started on that topic?” We look out to our learners expecting to see a swarm of hands bursting into the air, only to see faces of confusion and eye contact avoidance.
Then we begin pleading, “No wait guys, REMEMBER??? Yesterday we discussed _______________, and we drew the picture of ___________. Remember?”
They don’t remember.
We have all had this day. It is so frustrating. What happens between the super, amazing, fantastic, terrific, wonderful, good time in the classroom and the next day when learners forget? This blog post will examine three mechanisms of memory that impact learner performance and memory in an effort to answer that question.
Working memory is the temporary storage for manipulation and processing of information. Working memory is limited. George Miller’s “Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two” (1956) states that we can only hold about seven pieces of information in our working memory, contingent upon familiarity and complexity. To ensure better retention of material, content should be divided into smaller ‘chunks’ so they contain fewer pieces of information.
This is especially important when we mediate learning experiences that use technology, as they often require learners to work in self-paced settings, using self-regulation skills to determine how to engage with their learning experience. When learners use technology as their medium for information, are educators meditating how learners engage with processing the material? Are educators mediating the amount of information learners are processing at one time? Are learners sitting in one place completing their learning paths with no cognitive relief or time for reflection or application?
Cognitive Load Theory
The point in which a learner begins to feel overwhelmed is unique and individualized to a learner’s schema, experience, background, and age. The amount of information a learner is required to process, or the load placed on working memory, is called Cognitive Load. Information overload is a serious issue when it comes to learning. According to the US Department of Education, 80% of learning disabilities are due to weak cognitive processing skills. Struggling learners often have weak cognitive processing skills and undiagnosed learning disabilities that impact their working memory, processing rate, and learners’ ability to focus during learning activities. Strong cognitive processing skills are critical to meeting the increased cognitive demand of the new HS equivalency tests.
It is very common to see adult education programs operate as accelerated programs requiring learners to make very specific outcomes (level-gains, certificate attainment) within short time periods (6-9 months). It is critical to note that this time frame does not always lead to retention and mastery of the material.
There are three types of cognitive load to consider when mediating blended learning experiences: intrinsic load, extraneous load, and germane load.
Intrinsic load is the inherent level of difficulty associated with instructional materials. The number of steps, the complexity, the number of elements to process. The more constituents learners are required to process, the bigger the load. It is a direct function of performing the learning task and challenging to manipulate.
Extraneous load is the unnecessary or distracting information learners are required to process during a learning task. Examples of extraneous load might be: a difficult to use computer program, difficult to find research, a poorly delivered lecture. ABS programs also see extraneous load influenced by poverty, hunger, lack of navigational skills, etc.
Germane load is the demand placed on working memory as the new knowledge and information is obtained. Processes that contribute to learning positively impact germane load. A few examples are: schema construction, rule automation, routines, connection and assimilation, discovery, reflection, framing.
Learning will always have all three types of cognitive load, and it is the instructional designer’s role to orchestrate a balance. Aim toward maximizing germane load and minimizing extraneous, or irrelevant, load.
Mockingbird focuses on four Lean Load design principles:
Selection: When designing instruction, select the most important learning outcomes, focus primarily on learning objectives and avoid “filler” details.
Organization: Organize content in to sequence of approximately 5 chunks or steps. Name these steps and share the labels with learners.
Relationships: Use visuals and models to demonstrate how relationships between content, allowing learners to articulate these relationships in their own words.
Repetition: Provide learners with multiple opportunities to review and rehearse new information every 21 minutes, 24 hours, and 2 weeks.
How can you use selection, organization, relationships, and repetition to reduce extraneous load and magnify germane load to mediate blended learning instructional activities?