Engelbrecht, Paula C., Makany, Tamas, Meadmore, Katie, Dudley, Richard and Dror, Itiel E.
It is not worth learning if it is not remembered: designing e-learning to increase memory.
In, International Technology, Education and Development Conference (INTED 2007), Valencia, Spain,
07 - 09 Mar 2007.
The collation, storage and retrieval of information are essential components of successful learning. Whether information is retained depends on a variety of factors, including how the information fits with an individual’s existing knowledge, the way in which information is presented, and its complexity. Some of these factors are under the direct control of the e-learning designers and developers. Investigating these factors and how they impact on memory is important and can enhance the quality of e-learning.
Evidence from cognitive neuroscience suggests that information is stored in a semantically meaningful manner. It follows that e-learning technologies, which either mimic how knowledge is structured in the mind or which allow individuals to organise their own exploration of the information space, should facilitate learning and memory. However, the ability to freely explore an information space is also more taxing on an individual’s cognitive resources. Learners would need to expend cognitive resources remembering where they have been, as well as on deciding where to go next. These additional demands may impede learning, especially for more complex information. Most critical to investigate is the trade-off between the ability to build knowledge according to the learners’ cognitive structures and style (which is also more engaging), on the one hand; and the extra cognitive load associated with giving learners more control and information, on the other hand.
In this study we investigated the relationship between information layout, complexity of information content, and memory. Seventy-six participants took part in the study. A third of them were presented with information that was laid out in a linear fashion: learners encountered the items of information in a fixed and constrained sequence. This layout provided a structure for remembering the presented information and minimised cognitive load. Another third of the participants were given full control; they could select the order in which they learned the different topics and could freely navigate between them. This layout increased cognitive load and eliminated context structure, but was also potentially more engaging and allowed for individual differences. The remaining third of participants received an intermediate version, giving some, but not total, control. All the participants studied eight topics, half of them were given relatively simple information on each topic, whereas the other half where given more complex information.
The acquisition and retention of the learned material was assessed in all the experimental conditions. We found that constraining both the amount of information presented to the learners and the degree of navigational freedom they are given enhances information acquisition and retention. These factors are further discussed in terms of Cognitive Load Theory (CLT). Finally, the implication and application to e-learning design is considered.
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