Additional Publication Information
Copy available here: visuallearningresearch.wiki.educ.msu.edu/.
Cognitive load theory suggests that effective instructional material facilitates learning by directing cognitive resources toward activities that are relevant to learning rather than toward preliminaries to learning. One example of ineffective instruction occurs if learners unnecessarily are required to mentally integrate disparate sources of mutually referring information such as separate text and diagrams. Such split-source infonnation may generate a heavy cognitive load, because material must be mentally integrated before learning can commence. This article reports findings from six experiments testing the consequences of split-source and integrated information using electrical engineering and biology instructional materials. Experiment 1 was designed to compare conventional instructions with integrated instructions over a period of several months in an industrial training setting. The materials chosen were unintelligible without mental integration. Results favored integrated instructions throughout the 3-month study. Experiment 2 was designed to investigate the possible differences between conventional and integrated instructions in areas in which it was not essential for sources of information to be integrated to be understood. The results suggest that integrated instructions were no better than split-source infonnation in such areas. Experiments 3, 4, and 5 indicate that the introduction of seemingly useful but nonessential explanatory material (e.g., a commentary on a diagram) could have deleterious effects even when presented in integrated format. Experiment 6 found that the need for physical integration was restored if the material was organized in such a manner that individual units could not be understood alone. In light of these results and previous findings, suggestions are made for cognitively guided instructional packages.