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Extraneous Load

Part I:  Description

What is Extraneous Load?

Extraneous load is a concept in cognitive load theory, a branch of educational psychology. It refers to mental effort spent processing information, instructions, or activities that do not directly contribute to learning. Extraneous load can take many forms, hindering the learning process.

Types of Extraneous Load

  • Irrelevant details: Information that's unnecessary or distracting from the core goal of the lesson.

  • Confusing presentation: Poorly organized material, unclear directions, or overly complex visuals that make it hard for the learner to focus.

  • Unnecessary redundancy: Repeating the same information in multiple ways without adding new insight.

Why Extraneous Load Matters

Our working memory (where we process new information) has limited capacity. Extraneous load wastes this space, leaving less mental energy for actually understanding and retaining the key concepts

Reducing Extraneous Load in Teaching

  • Streamlined presentations: Keep visuals simple and focused, emphasizing core points.

  • Clear instructions: Break down complex tasks into manageable steps, avoiding jargon.

  • Connect to prior knowledge: Build on what students already know, reducing the need to process foundational concepts alongside new ones.

Part II:  Common Questions

1. What's the difference between extraneous load and intrinsic load?

  • Answer: Both are types of cognitive load, but they come from different sources:

    • Extraneous load: Caused by poorly designed instruction or materials. This is what teachers and designers should work to minimize.

    • Intrinsic load: The inherent difficulty of the material itself. Some topics are naturally more complex. It can be reduced through scaffolding (breaking things down) but can't be entirely eliminated.

Can extraneous load ever be beneficial?

  • Answer: Rarely. Sometimes a bit of engaging but "extra" information can spark initial interest. However, too much quickly outweighs that benefit, especially if it isn't followed by a clear link to the topic at hand.

How do I recognize extraneous load in my teaching materials?

  • Answer: Ask yourself:

    • Does this element directly help achieve the learning objective? If not, it's likely extraneous.

    • Could I say this more simply? Overly complex phrasing adds load.

    • Am I assuming knowledge my learners may not have? This forces them to expend effort filling in those gaps instead of focusing on the new lesson.

What are some common examples of extraneous load?

  • Answer:

    • Wordy, text-heavy slides that students are expected to read while also listening to a lecture.

    • Decorative visuals that don't illustrate the concept being taught.

    • Assignments requiring elaborate formatting that don't relate to the skill being assessed.

    • Including background information that's fascinating but not relevant to the objective.

How does reducing extraneous load impact learners?

  • Answer: It leads to:

    • Improved understanding: They have more mental resources to focus on the core concepts.

    • Increased retention: Less "wasted" effort means they better remember what matters.

    • Reduced frustration: Learning feels more achievable and less overwhelming.

Part III:  Additional Resources

Books about Extraneous Load

e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning by Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer: 

  • A foundational text exploring principles of effective multimedia learning design, with a strong focus on reducing extraneous load.

Cognitive Load Theory and the Design of Educational Multimedia by John Sweller, Paul Ayres, & Slava Kalyuga:

  • Delves deeper into the specifics of cognitive load theory, offering practical instructional strategies to reduce extraneous processing.

Websites and Articles about Extraneous Load

The eLearning Coach: Cognitive Load Theory:

  • Clear explanations, examples, and tips for educators.

Learning Solutions Magazine: What Instructional Designers Need to Know About Cognitive Load Theory:

  • Offers practical applications specifically for those designing training or e-learning.

Online Resources about Extraneous Load

  • Cognitive Load Theory website by John Sweller:: Explore the primary researcher's work, publications, and additional resources.

  • The work of Richard E. Mayer : Another key figure in the field, his website offers articles and research.

Communities about Extraneous Load

  • Instructional Design Subreddit: ( Discussions often touch on reducing extraneous load for optimal learning.

  • LinkedIn Groups focused on E-Learning or Instructional Design: Search and join for practical tips and discussions with other designers and teachers.

Part IV:  Disclaimer

These results were highly selected, curated, and edited by The Nexus Inititiative. To make this amount of complimentary content available at a cost-effective level for our site visitors and clients, we have to rely on, and use, resources like Google Gemini and other similar services.

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