The Science of Memory Systems Part 2 – Episode #2

Before we get into today’s topic, let begin with a brief tease…as you listen to episode two keep in mind that in episode three we will focus on a new and emerging instructional design framework called the learning actions model – hopefully you will agree that this is the perfect next building block based on what we’ve covered and in episodes one and two.

In this episode we are digging deeper into the The Science of Memory Systems (PART 2) and we continue to learn lessons from the 2014 publication, “Cognitive Load Theory: Implications for medical education: AMEE Guide No. 86” by Young et al.

Cognitive Load Title Image

Building on what we explored in episode #1 …Here are our Big Three Takeaways:

  1. Everything we do in continuing education is hampered by the bottleneck of working memory
  2. Our job is to mitigate the load we place on learners in an effort to simplify the processing of information
  3. How we define the ‘best educational activities’ we can build based on how effectively we can align intrinsic load of subject matter to learners and how effectively we can eliminate the extraneous load of the learning experience.

As we will do with every podcast, we will start in the author’s words but this time we will jump further into the text and see how they frame the very real and very practical challenge of extraneous load on learning.

Instructional techniques can inadvertently impose extraneous load by, for example, providing insufficient guidance and thereby forcing learners to employ weak problem-solving methods such as trial and error or to search for information needed to complete the task. Similarly, when information necessary for learning is distributed in space (e.g. requiring multiple textbooks or with the physical separation of the written text from the accompanying pictures) or time (e.g. across different lectures), scarce WM resources are used to search for the information and bring it together. A teacher provides visual overload when he shows full text slides but allows too little time for the learners to read them; if, in addition, he gives simultaneous verbal information that does not align with the (visual) slides, distracting (extraneous) cognitive load is introduced that will impair both channels of information. Finally, distractions not related to the task (e.g. the intern’s pager beeping during a lumbar puncture or a colleague interrupting during a handover) impose extraneous load.

Remembering that in episode 1 we focused on the memory systems science from the 50’s and 60’s which defines for us a critical bottleneck in learning.

  1. Infinite sensory memory and infinite long-term memory sandwich a very limited working memory.
  2. Information must be moved from working memory to long-term memory through processing and schema formation
  3. Intrinsic load is relationship b/w content and the learner – too much distance or complexity and model fails.
  4. Extraneous load speaks to the effort required OUTSIDE of the content to support the processing (…this is what we do as educators)

At the risk of over-simplifying the role we each play in mitigating extraneous load, here is how I suggest you think about these lessons.

Every instructional design choice you make in practice will either add to or mitigate extraneous load.

  • Case-based vs didactic?
  • Small group environments vs large plenary sessions?
  • Monotonous speakers vs TED-like polished presentations?
  • Giving handouts or ‘making them available’?
  • Steadfastly meeting power point best practices or simply using whatever the faculty turn in?
  • Stand-alone learning vs serial learning?
  • Opening with a joke, the lighting, the temperature, the seating, the UI of online approaches…

As we progress in this podcast series we will attempt to find the evidence behind each of these decisions and ensure that we are making the right instructional design decision that have been proven to mitigate extraneous load and simplify learning!

In segment 2 of the podcast, we briefly explore some critical productivity best practices for CE professionals. In 2013 I was asked to create a guide that would allow CE professionals to more efficiently stay abreast of critical information and new professional lessons – at the time I called it my “Manifesto for CE Professionals” (you might recognize that this podcast is a perfect example of this Manifesto in action). Here are the basic elements of the manifesto:

  1. Work smarter, not harder
  2. Learn what to learn and when/where to search
  3. “Professionals” share
  4. Sharing is now effortless

The guide is comprised of a video series to provide tutorials on how exactly I ‘work smarter. not harder’ – I strongly advise that you take the time to review the series (complete with my full winter beard) and share the series with you colleagues.

You can find the series here: Use New Technology to Support Your Personal Learning Network

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