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What impact does technology have on cognitive load?

What impact does technology have on cognitive load?

3 min read
  • Cognitive Load Theory
  • Phones & technology

When it comes to learning, there is no doubt that utilising technology can have its benefits. Research shows that utilising iPads in the classroom has the potential to improve not only students’ perception of their engagement but their collaborative and independence skills as well.

And over the years, technology has become an essential part of people’s lives, with many of us unable to imagine a life without it. For many, Google has become their go-to source for all information (with this having both pros and cons). With many individuals reporting “time poverty” (too much to do and not enough time to do it), technology has provided some much-needed convenience to our everyday lives.

However, is the cost of this convenience our memory? Let’s take a closer look… 

The link between Google and cognitive load

The Google Effect, also referred to as digital amnesia, occurs when people are more likely to forget information they can easily find online through search engines like Google or Bing. This is because they will put more effort into remembering where they found it rather than trying to remember the information itself. In essence, the internet has become people’s personal memory palace.   

Research shows that when people believe the information will be stored online or saved electronically, they make less of an effort to remember this information. Essentially, they offload the task of encoding this information onto the device. Moreover, people who know they can access specific information at a later date will put less effort into memorising this information.

This reliance on technology to remember information for us is called “Cognitive Offloading”. This is because we offload the cognitive demand of remembering information onto a device which consequently frees up our cognitive resources so we can turn our focus to other tasks. Although this may seem ideal, are the long-term negative implications on memory and learning worth it?

The impact of technology on learning

A common staple of the modern-day education is the use of laptops to take notes in class. However, the issue with this is that students may be tempted to type without thinking critically, focusing more on copying down what their teacher is saying verbatim rather than on the information itself. As a result, students don’t rehearse or engage with this information, resulting in shallower learning of a topic. On the other hand, taking notes by hand forces students to focus on key information and summarise lesson material effectively. By focusing on these key point, students’ cognitive load doesn’t become overwhelmed.

One research study looked to compare the relationship between note taking methods and learning. 67 Princeton university students were asked to either take notes using a laptop or through traditional pen and paper during a lecture and were then quizzed on the content. The researchers found that the students who had written notes down by hand performed significantly better on the test and had a greater conceptual understanding of the lesson material.

However, using technology in the classroom can be an effective tool if used correctly. Research shows that by giving students access to the lesson’s PowerPoint slides at the beginning of the lesson, student learning is boosted. This is because their focus isn’t on writing down what’s on the slides, but rather on the actual lesson material.

Maximise your students’ learning efficiency with Cognitive Load Theory training for your school staff.

Applying this to the classroom

So how can you apply these findings to the classroom? Here are 5 tips that will ensure student learning is not negatively impacted:

  1. Talk to students about using technology selectively and sparingly
  2. Encourage students to use the Cornell Note Taking Method
  3. Provide students with lesson slides and notes at the beginning of the lesson
  4. Get students to mind map the key information
  5. Ask students to provide you with a handwritten summary of the lesson content at the end of the lesson

Final thoughts

Technology can be useful in the classroom depending on how it is integrated into classroom instruction. Although having access to information at the click of a button is certainly convenient and takes some of the responsibility of learning information off of one’s shoulders, the potential implications on memory and learning aren’t necessarily worth it.

For more information on how technology can impact learning, check out our resources on mobile phone management and how to maintain student attention whilst distance learning.