My daily work includes empowering school and adult learners to become more effective thinkers and learners. In the process I am constantly helping them to manage their cognitive load and to eliminate and/or compensate for unwanted ‘effects’ to optimise their learning. One of these effects is the Redundancy Effect.
1. Is the Redundancy Effect connected to Cognitive Load Theory?
Hundreds of studies and articles explain that it is easy to get overwhelmed when we must process a lot or complex information. This is because working memory (our mental workspace), has a limited capacity for processing information.
For learning to take place, information must be transferred to long-term memory, which is very large. Although this sounds easy, it is not, as there could be a bottleneck between working memory and long-term memory. According to Inner Drive, Cognitive Load Theory is all about recognizing this bottleneck and using this to improve the transfer of material between working memory and long-term memory.
Connie Malamed says: “If the demands placed on working memory, known as cognitive load, are too high, learners may give up in frustration or fail to comprehend.” Some inherent cognitive load must occur during the process of learning and this can be beneficial to learning.
Malamed explains that extraneous cognitive load (the load generated by the way the material is presented) on the other hand does not contribute to the learning process and this is under the control of the educator or learning experience designer or facilitator.
So, what is the Redundancy Effect? Inner Drive clarifies that “it is part of Cognitive Load Theory and states that giving students irrelevant information whilst they are learning something will clog up their working memory. This means students may remember the wrong stuff, not the parts of the information you actually want them to.”
2. What are some strategies to reduce the Redundancy Effect?
- Avoid highly visually decorated classrooms. A study discussed in the Science of Learning refers to Fisher et al that found that students taught in a highly visually decorated class were more distracted; they spent more time off-task compared to children in a non-decorated classroom; and students in a highly decorated class made fewer gains in their final exams.
- Limit PowerPoint animations. There is a growing body of evidence that indicates that adding entertaining elements into lessons (e.g. music, animations, auditory material, etc.) can actually hamper learning and performance instead of enhancing it. Always ask yourself: “If this does not enhance learning, is it worth it?” If the answer is not a definite yes, then it is the best to not include it.
- Limit the use of too many fonts and fancy fonts. This applies to notes and PowerPoint slides. Make sure students can clearly recognize headings and subheadings by choosing fonts deliberately and consistently.
- Organize text in a consistent and logical way. It can waste a lot of cognitive energy and time if students can not clearly understand the organization of the text and if it is ‘cluttered’.
- Choose PowerPoint templates carefully. Decorative templates with no connection to the content on the slides can distract learners and increase cognitive load.
- Explain a visual through audio or text, NOT both.
- Avoid adding on-screen text to a narrated image. When adding on-screen text to a narrated image, it can lead to cognitive overload as multiple pieces of information must be processed simultaneously. Jim Borden says that the duplicated pieces of information—spoken and written—don’t positively reinforce one another; instead, the two flood students’ abilities to handle the information.
- Cut most of what you want to include on a slide. Oliver Caviglioli (author of Dual Coding with Teachers) emphasises this principle of cutting content on slides. He suggests that you chunk the content into a clear hierarchy and align your content with other elements. Colours and fonts must be restricted on slides. But most important: Cut the number of words on your slides.
- Limit bullets and do not read bullets. According to Caviglioli the humble bullet point has grown beyond its primary function. He states, “Once only used to clarify items in a list, the bullet now dominates both how presentations are created and conducted.” Audiences do not want to hear you read out bullets! It’s simple: Don’t Talk Over Your Slides.
These are just a few strategies to avoid the Redundancy Effect. A blog by Borden titled, ‘Thanks to PowerPoint, I’ve Been an Ineffective Teacher for the Past Thirty Years’ is a very good reminder for all of us to reflect about the Redundancy Effect and to learn more about his effect.