Do As Marketing Does – Part 4 Cognitive Load

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It is very clear that the changes that will impact learning and development in 2017 and beyond will require very different skills than what we depended upon in the past.   We need to look to other fields for practices we can borrow.  Learning from our colleagues will not only accelerate our abilities to serve our learners and organizations better, but the collaboration will enhance our efforts to integrate with the businesses we serve.

In 6 Things That Learning Professionals Can Learn from Marketers, Todd Kasenberg provides ideas that we can learn from our colleagues in Marketing.  I think he’s dead on with these suggestions.  The 6 things are:

  1. Address learner motivations to get engagement
  2. Be relevant
  3. Get your channels right
  4. Manage cognitive load
  5. Get then trying out (“trialling”) behaviors quickly
  6. Anticipate and handle the objections

Over the next six days, I’m going to flesh out each of these topics and how they fit into the work we do in Learning and Development.

Manage cognitive load

Marketers know that the human brain can only absorb so much, and since so many of the scenarios marketers advantage themselves of can be called micro-encounters – 30 second commercials, quarter page ads, billboards – they know that they must keep it to one or two key messages.

Here Kasenberg applies a well-known concept to L&D professionals in a slightly different way.  He’s talking about the ability to deal with learning in an overcrowded worker’s mind and workload.  He mentions microlearning and Cathy Moore’s work in this area.

But I do think we have more work to do in understanding just how much our learners can digest at any given moment.  How much can they add to their day-to-day work before losing their attention?  Does embedded learning make it easier to absorb the learning?

My personal experience with online learning and face-to-face training is that we overwhelm learners with too much information.  I’m concerned that the current trend toward learner curated content and self-managed learning will only add to the burden that our learners currently perceive learning to be.  Perhaps if they create it, it won’t feel like work?

Moving to a continuous learning approach will help.  In the traditional event-focused, “we’ve got one time to teach them everything” approach we had to pile as much as possible into every training course.  When we build multi-contact learning experiences, we can give learners a chance to breathe and digest the content.

We also need to build in feedback loops to understand when we are overloading and when we are getting it right.

What do you think?

  • Do you think there is an optimal number of objectives we can address in a lesson?  in a course?
  • What factors do you take into consideration when considering cognitive load?

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

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