Lately, I have the feeling more often that I am a victim of information overload. So, when I saw an article online by Jane Bozarth in Learning Solutions where she addressed the problem of cognitive overload for teachers and instructional designers, I had to read it.
Trying to do too much in terms of content results in cognitive overload. She says, "You can’t control how intrinsically hard the task is. You have little control over learner motivation and effort to learn it, but you have complete control over extraneous information."
This month, she wrote about another situation of too much. This is the overload that can happen when a teacher (or designer for many online courses) overloads on using tools in a course so that students get lost in the maze of technologies. Too many tools can overwhelm just as much as can too much content.
I find that some tools themselves suffer from feature overload. Going back to 2000 when I started working with instructional design for online courses using WebCT, we would tell faculty that there were 25 tools to use. But, over and over, faculty only wanted to use 4 to 8 of those tools.
When we are searching for an LMS, portal, assessment program or any enterprise software, it is very easy to become distracted by features, rather than benefits. Narrated quizzes, podcast automation and drag and drop are pretty cool features, but does anyone need them, has anyone been asking for them and will anyone use them?
It's not just education. It is a symptom of the times. How many TV channels do you have? How many possible versions of each product face you in a supermarket? How many Facebook friends or Twitter people you can follow? How many courses do our students have to choose from? It's why you can have a popular book like The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less in which Barry Schwartz tries to describe why it is an illusion of a multitude of options and that only a a few really different ones actually exist.
And it's stressful. Too many choices hurts the brain. The illusion of freedom in choosing ends up being the panic of being unable to choose.
Designers of lessons, courses and course tools might be well served in leaving the land of too much and entering a simpler landscape.