Cognitive load

Teaching materials should be designed to take into account the cognitive structure in the brain. That is, it takes into account: a. a working memory that is limited in capacity and time when it comes to retaining and processing new information and b. a long-term memory that has an almost unlimited capacity. The limited capacity of working memory is the bottleneck when it comes to learning. Only 5 to 7 elements can be held in working memory and that number decreases if those elements also have to be manipulated. On the other hand, information that is already in long-term memory can be clustered into a single information element. Therefore, prior knowledge or expertise reduces the cognitive load required by a particular task and frees up capacity for other tasks. Prior knowledge ensures that an individual has some expertise in a particular area. Experts are better able to cluster information into functional patterns. Furthermore, cognitive processes become automated when a task is continuously repeated. They then no longer need a controlled form of processing, which further relieves the burden on working memory. Automation of processes as a result of repetition brings faster, less varied and more accurate responses and a decrease in activity in working memory. In addition to expertise, a higher level of intelligence also ensures more efficient processing of information. Research shows that expertise and intelligence influence the efficiency of brain processes independently of each other.

Multimodal processing

The dual coding theory (Paivio) states that retrieving information from memory is enhanced by presenting the information both visually and auditorily. The theory assumes that there are two cognitive subsystems: one specialized in the representation and processing of non-verbal information and the other for verbal information, or language. Providing information via auditory and visual presentation, for example through pictures and spoken text, places a lower cognitive load on the working memory and thus promotes better learning results than if information were presented in one way. Much research has been done into the functioning of the working memory. These studies showed that relevant brain areas are activated more by showing a combination of auditory and visual aspects of a subject than when the information was presented in only one way. Moreover, it turned out that the same brain areas are active in both the processing of visual information in working memory and in the processing of auditory information in working memory. Differences have been noted in the routes that neural signals follow in the brain and the way in which those signals are processed.

Textbooks often use different representations of the same subject: pictures, pieces of text, graphs, etc. In a multimedia environment, text, sound and video are combined to convey the information. Information about a specific subject is best shown in a format that best fits that information. Given the enormous diversity of information associated with a given topic, it seems logical to present that information in different ways. When information is presented both auditorily and visually, students are confronted with multiple representations of the same information. They must understand the specifics of each representation and, moreover, they must understand the connection between those different representations and the subject on which they are based. This means that they are confronted with multiple tasks and the question is what that means for the load on their working memory and what that means, especially for weaker students. Weaker students have difficulty thinking in relationships and therefore do not see the correspondence between visual information and auditory information. Instead of clarifying, the different representations then become confusing. The working memory is active when remembering language, the word five. But it is also active when remembering pictures, for example an image of the number 5. And finally, it is active when remembering the number five as an arithmetic unit. In a concrete learning environment, different representations are often much more dynamic than just the representation of a number and are often displayed simultaneously. In that case, the representation cannot be consciously processed in the brain at the same time.