Date of Award

Summer 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


Curriculum and Instruction

Committee Director

Ginger S. Watson

Committee Member

Tian Luo

Committee Member

Shana Pribesh


Cognitive load reduction strategies traditionally seek to reduce the amount of extraneous mental effort required of the learner. Researchers, through effective instructional design, seek to eliminate load-causing agents that are extraneous to the learning topic at hand. However, cognitive load theory research has now shifted to also include the exploration of strategies that seek to reduce the inherent complexities of the target topic itself. The current study seeks to apply two such intrinsic cognitive load reduction strategies—personalization and contextualization. Previous research suggests that cognitive load can be reduced by personalizing the learning environment, which serves to meet the interests of each learner as well as to provide a familiar environment, or prior knowledge script, for the learner. By utilizing instructional materials for which learners already have an established script, personalized materials are able to reduce the number of novel elements that must be individually processed by the learner, and by so doing, effectively reduce cognitive load. Research also suggests that personalized learning environments can also be more intrinsically motivating for learners, a tenant that is again assessed in the current study.

Intrinsic cognitive load reduction research likewise suggests that new topics be presented serially, and in isolation from confounding authentic contexts when possible, in order to reduce the number of elements that must be simultaneously processed that might otherwise outstrip learners’ available cognitive resources. Contrarily, second language acquisition research suggests that new target lexical items are best learned through inferring a new term’s meaning through a rich authentic context. Studies contend that learners are able to map a lexicon’s form to its meaning most effectively when new terms are interpreted through highly contextualized imbedded learning environments.

The current study sought to determine how a multimedia tutorial’s level of personalization and contextualization could be manipulated to improve foreign language lexical learning, reduce cognitive load, and improve motivation for learning. A sample population of beginning college Spanish language learners (n = 128) was subjected to four different versions of a multimedia tutorial (i.e., personalized-contextualized, personalized-decontextualized, generic-contextualized, and generic-decontextualized). Following the tutorial, learners were tested for their ability to retain the novel content and transfer this content to new environments. Additionally, learners were asked to rank their motivation for learning the new topic, and the cognitive load endured during the learning and testing processes.

Achievement results showed a significant interaction effect for personalization and contextualization. When learners were asked to solve a complex problem utilizing the new target lexical terms, personalized-contextualized learners and generic-decontextualized learners were more effective than their contemporaries. A significant interaction effect was also demonstrated for cognitive load, which suggested that personalized-contextualized and generic-decontextualized learners suffered less cognitive load when completing a complex task than other learners. Finally, results showed a positive effect for motivation demonstrated by learners who were exposed to a personalized learning environment as opposed to a generic learning environment.