In authentic learner tasks, the cognitive load of the activities will likely be greater than the cognitive load in highly controlled instructional settings. By preserving the context in which the problems exist in the real world, educators increase the opportunities for intrinsic and germane cognitive load, but also the potential for extraneous cognitive load.
There are several examples of how ICT can be used to mitigate the cognitive load of authentic learning tasks and make additional cognitive load available for creating new learning. Delivering information via multimedia especially in pre-teaching situations can increase the cognition available for germane cognitive load during instructional tasks. Cognitive scaffolds, such as graphic organizers, delivered via ICT can have similar effects. Further, just-in-time delivery of procedural information (which can be accomplished via ICT) can decrease the extraneous cognitive load of remembering procedures until they are needed (van Merriëboer, Kirschner, and Kester 2003).
Alternatively, the introduction of new and unfamiliar ICT can increase the extraneous cognitive load of instructional activities; the cognitive load of operating the ICT is not available to build new understanding. This extraneous cognitive load is even greater if the ICT has poor usability (if users make mistakes because of the design, if the task requires additional time because of the ICT, or if users experience a poor subjective reaction). This observation supports the conclusion that educators should seek to use common software or other interface tools and it supports the conclusion that educators should use ICT frequently. For example, if both the science and math teachers in a school use the same programs for creating graphs with students, then the extraneous cognitive load of using the software for that task will decrease for the students and additional germane cognitive load available for reflecting point he meaning of the graphs.
The cognitive load of instructional tasks can be shared among the members of a group using the capacity of ICT as well. A common cooperative group activity finds individuals reading a section of text, summarizing it and then sharing their interpretation of the selection with a larger group. Commonly called a “jigsaw” (breaking a large item into sections and then rebuilding it), this method of sharing cognitive load is common in classes without ICT. By using the capacity of ICT to store and share the jigsaw pieces, this information is available and improvable indefinitely. Thus, a good instructional practice for sharing cognitive load can be made even better through the application of ICT.
As has been established, in recent years, computers transitioned from being devices that accepted alphanumeric input and displayed alphanumeric output into multimedia devices. Today, computers are used to access manipulate and display pictures, video, audio, and animations with ease and speed that was not available to previous generations of computer users. The principles of multimedia learning can be understood as steps that decrease the cognitive load of the information, but as the media becomes more complicated the load of using the media becomes extraneous. Because digital information can be quickly and easily copied and edited, educators can manipulate the cognitive load of information, and make different presentations available to different users or can give different presentations to the same learners over time, this allows the germane load to increase as the extraneous load decreases. For example, an animation can be presented with visual cues to direct students to different processes and those cues can be added back or taken away as knowledge is built.
van Merrienboer, Jeroen, Paul Kirschner, and Liesbeth Kester. 2003. “Taking the Load Off a Learner’s Mind: Instructional Design for Complex Learning.” Educational Psychologist 38(1): 5-13.