Pay Attention to the Cognitive Load

Making things simple, fun and engaging facilitates knowledge acquisition and understanding.

Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow is no doubt a must-read for everyone. Personally, the book opened my eyes and ears to lots of useful information. I can say that the book also helped me become more mindful in daily life as I started paying attention to most of the things the author mentions. One of the many things I learned, thanks to Kahneman, has been the importance of having the right amount of cognitive load.

I believe the concept has been around for a while as the theory’s roots go back to the 1980s, to John Sweller. The cognitive load theory is gaining more attention these days. As business and education professionals become more design thinking oriented they are looking for ways to improve new information acquisition at work and at schools. Professor Pieter Rossouw gives a clear explanation about the things that contribute to cognitive load in the Deep Learning Through Transformative Pedagogy course presented on EdX.

"Intrinsic cognitive load refers to the complexity of a task for a particular learner.
Extraneous cognitive load refers to the load imposed by the instructional format (e.g., reading and visual material).
Germane cognitive load refers to the load resulting from learning processes e.g., self-explanations, mental imagery (Chinnappan & Chandler, 2010)." 

It’s not possible to alter the intrinsic cognitive load of a task or a fact. Rocket science is what it is, so is the fact that the world is round. What’s possible though is reducing the extraneous cognitive load, like how we present things to others. I believe it’s logical to make things easier, fun, and engaging to facilitate understanding for everyone around us. For example, if I can explain a concept with six simple words (simple meaning words made out of less than three syllables) in a fun and engaging way, I believe the person in front of me will receive the message easier. The same idea goes for various user interfaces we interact with daily too. I prefer using interfaces with simple designs, as they are easier to understand. In a similar fashion, I prefer being or working in environments with few objects around, because all those everyday items that are around us are putting more stress on our cognitive load too.

Accomplishing simplicity is not easy though. I guess it requires practice and lots of effort. As Mark Twain intelligently said back in the day, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” For the most part, it’s very tempting for us to take a shortcut, and do and say more than we should.

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