Another very important point to consider when designing educational tools is the perfect balance between holding the learner’s interest and avoiding an exhausting overload of information. Cognitive load theory was developed by Australian educational psychologist John Sweller, who believed that good instructional design can reduce the total amount of mental effort used in learners’ working memory. To optimize cognitive load, educational material must minimize extraneous load (difficulty related to the way the information is presented), manage intrinsic load (the task’s inherent difficulty), and maximize germane load. The last refers to schemas, sometimes defined as systems of organizing and perceiving new information that influence attention and the absorption of new knowledge.
What this offers for one seeking to design effective training tools is empirically-based guidelines that take learners’ attention off of extraneous cognitive load and refocus it on germane, or schema-related, materials. A classic example is a trainer needing to convey the concept of a square to a student and choosing between explaining it verbally or simply drawing a picture: it’s easy to see how the illustration conveys the information far more quickly, efficiently, and accurately.