Date of Award

Spring 2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


STEM Education & Professional Studies

Committee Director

Jill E. Stefaniak

Committee Member

John Baaki

Committee Member

Angela Eckhoff


This study examined how practicing instructional designers manage cognitive load in a standardized scenario as they select and implement instructional strategies, message design, content sequencing, and delivery media within various domains with learners at different levels of expertise. The study employed a quasi-experimental, mixed methods design to gain insight into how practicing instructional designers perceive their awareness of strategies to manage cognitive load and implement those strategies within a standardized design scenario. The research design involved the collection of quantitative data from the participants during an initial web-based questionnaire and a second collection of both quantitative and qualitative data as the participants completed a design activity using a think-aloud protocol. The triangulation of data through observation of activity and debriefing interviews was used to clarify data gathered through the protocol.

The results of the study indicated that both novice and expert practitioners frequently used several strategies to manage extraneous load (worked examples, completion tasks, and dual modality) as prescribed by theory, as well as the simple-to-complex presentation strategy to manage intrinsic load. They also exhibited a moderate use of the variability strategy to manage germane load as recommended by theory, but overall use of strategies to address germane load was infrequent across all participants. While participants frequently acknowledged differences in the levels of learner expertise within the instructional scenario, few employed strategies prescribed to address the expertise reversal effect as outlined by theory. Participants described a number of barriers preventing them from using additional strategies to manage cognitive load, ranging from those common to all instructional strategies (such as time constraints and lack of formative evaluation) to those specific to cognitive load strategies (such as lack of instructor buy-in regarding cognitive load and the extra design effort to create worked examples).


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