Date of Award

Fall 2017

Document Type

Master's Project

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


STEM and Professional Studies

Committee Director

Karina Arcaute


The theory of cognitive load has been developed to help educators, instructional designers, and developers of e-learning curriculum and materials, anticipate learning outcomes by fully understanding the cognitive capabilities and limitations of the learner. The theory is broad enough to be used in many educational environments because the focus is on making learning as effective and efficient as possible in regards to the human brain’s ability to process information. By reducing the complexity of the information to be learned and the manipulatives used to produce understanding, the curriculum developer can focus their energies on producing lessons that are streamlined and geared to the way the human mind works best. Infotec, a computer training facility in Virginia Beach, Virginia has historically offered classes in a traditional face-to-face format. More recently, they have converted many of their classes into web only curriculum. After conducting these web-based courses they found that student’s success rates and certification test scores had dropped.

The purpose of this study was to determine whether this format change had increased the cognitive load on the learner and to develop techniques which can be used to reduce cognitive load. The study divided students into three classroom environments; (Group I) traditional face-to-face, (Group II) web-based with e-book, and (Group III) web-based with e-book and dual computer monitors. The identical curriculum was delivered to all three groups. Traditional methods of reducing cognitive load such as using “worked examples” and reducing the redundancy of materials seemed to have a similar ameliorative effect on all groups. Methods for reducing split attention cognitive load were conducted using Group III. Cognitive load seems to have increased slightly for male participants in Group II, using a single monitor and e-book with online instruction. The data demonstrates that there was a tangible increase in cognitive load in female participants in Group II. Reducing the split-attention effect using multiple computer monitors produced a minor positive effect on males within Group III, but seemed to have a significant positive effect on female participants of the same group. As part of the study, instructors also recorded communication frequency to determine if students in e-learning environments have similar communication regularity as traditional face-to-face instruction. Results showed a slight reduction in communication for individuals participating in online learning environments.

In conclusion, results showed that the format change to a web-based learning environment at the Infotec Information Technology (IT) training school increased the cognitive load on the students. According to the results of the survey used in the study, as well as the certification exam scores, the increase in cognitive load seems to be more profound in female participants than their male counterparts. Furthermore, results showed that using a dual computer monitor in the e-learning environment helps to reduce cognitive load, and the use of dual monitors seems to have had a greater ameliorative effect on female participants.


A Research Paper Submitted to the Faculty of Old Dominion University in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of MASTER OF SCIENCE OCCUPATIONAL AND TECHNICAL STUDIES