7 Common Causes Of Cognitive Overwhelm In eLearning
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Cognitive Overwhelm In eLearning And How To Prevent It

Your online learners must be mentally prepared to absorb information and connect it to pre-existing knowledge. The trouble is that they aren’t training in a vacuum. Online learners must contend with a variety of issues that prevent them from retaining information and tying it to real-world applications. As eLearning professionals, it’s our job to create an ideal environment that puts our audience at ease and facilitates the knowledge transfer process. Below are 7 common reasons why online learners experience cognitive overwhelm and tips to prevent them.

1. Information Overload

The brain can only handle a finite amount of information at once. Too many ideas or concepts flooding in at once can wreak havoc on our memory processing banks. For this reason, it’s crucial to break more complex topics into easily digestible parts. Lead off with a summary of the takeaways and practical applications so that online learners can focus on the essentials. Another great way to prevent cognitive overwhelm is to provide a microlearning online training library that allows online learners to go at their own pace. They can concentrate on one topic or task at a time, then reflect on the ideas and how they translate in the real world.

2. Stress

Stress in small quantities is perfectly healthy. It helps motivate online learners and keep them focused on the task by applying a small degree of pressure. It also conditions them to handle stressful situations in the real world. That said, an abundance of stress can lead to cognitive overwhelm and hinder the learning process. You must present online learners with the ideal amount of challenge without putting too much on their shoulders. Another way to lessen the stress is to use calming color schemes and hints of humor to lighten the mood.

3. Chaotic Learning Environment

The eLearning environment should be a safe and welcoming space where online learners feel comfortable. But a chaotic eLearning course design achieves the opposite effect by putting online learners on guard and contributing to their high-stress levels. De-clutter your eLearning course and opt for a simple layout that showcases the subject matter instead of trying to wow your audience. You should still incorporate multimedia elements to improve the interactivity, but not so many that online learners don’t know where to focus their attention.

4. Ineffective Presentation

The way information is presented doesn’t align with online learners’ needs or their learning preferences. For example, online learners who prefer more visuals may not be able to absorb the information as effectively by listening to an audio presentation or podcast. This is why it’s essential to diversify your delivery formats and use a responsive design LMS to improve accessibility. Another need to consider is their language preferences. If English isn’t their first language, certain online learners may have difficulty understanding or remembering the concepts. Thus, you should include subtitles or translated versions of the eLearning content for international audiences.

5. Extraneous Content

There are so many visual stimuli that online learners aren’t sure where to look or how any of it ties into the learning objectives. There’s too much extraneous content overshadowing the subject matter they actually need to assimilate. This also overloads their mental synapses because, once again, the mind can only store a limited quantity of information. Avoid this common mistake by excluding images or text that doesn’t support the desired outcomes. Conduct a focus group before launch to get online learner feedback and pinpoint unnecessary elements you may have overlooked, such as pictures or background sounds that detract from the main discussion points.

6. External Distractions

Online learners are dealing with busy schedules, job obligations, and even tech distractions that prevent immersion. There is so much going on that they find it difficult to stop multitasking and just concentrate on the training. The tricky thing about distractions is that everyone’s situation is different. One online learner might be tempted to check their Facebook page when they should be studying compliance issues, while another is thinking about all the work obligations on their plate and how they’re going to juggle their schedule. Then there’s the matter of noisy learning environments and other external distractors. Everything is competing for their attention and there is only so much to go around. Fortunately, you can keep online learners mentally focused by creating relevant and aesthetically appealing eLearning courses. Make them take notice with a controversial or thought-provoking question, or offer bite-sized resources that don’t demand too much of their time.

7. Lack Of Context

The information you’re providing for online learners is valuable. They just can’t see how it ties into real-world applications or situations. The lack of context prevents them from linking this new idea to preexisting concepts they’ve already stored in their memory banks. There’s no frame or reference, which makes it even more challenging to relate to the eLearning content and assign meaning. However, real-world activities can help you connect all the pieces and avoid cognitive overwhelm. It’s easier for online learners to remember the information when they can apply it and determine how it relates to their lives. You should also include a summary of the advantages and uses in the eLearning course intro. That way, they know what to expect and are more motivated to learn because they understand the importance of the subject matter.

Every online learner deals with unique challenges that must be factored into your eLearning development process. One of the most effective ways to diagnose causes of cognitive overwhelm in your audience is to get their input. Survey online learners to disclose which issues or distractions they contend with. Then customize your eLearning strategy to lessen the cognitive load and create an eLearning environment that caters to their emotional and psychological needs.

Are long text blocks preventing your online learners from acquiring the key takeaways? Read the article 8 Ways Content Chunking Can Help You Avoid Cognitive Overload to discover innovative ways to use content chunking to avoid cognitive overload and improve comprehension.

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