Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Information Systems and Technology


This study seeks to investigate how cognitive load influences knowledge construction and the role of web-based ‘layered, integrated instructional design’ techniques, which can facilitate the construction and automation of schemas by learners. This research study will focus on how utilising the principles of Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) affects the design of web-based integrated instructional materials, with a view to optimising the learning process. CLT is based on the assumption that a learner receives information through the senses and this information is passed to working memory, which has a limited capacity; optimising how a learner processes information in working memory can increase learning outcomes. Information that is effectively processed by working memory can then be stored in long-term memory for later retrieval.

This study developed three different Flash web-based applications that were designed to increase a learner’s understanding of the ‘model of human memory and information processing’. All three applications were grounded by different aspects of understanding of how learning best occurs from the perspective of CLT. The three methods being examined in this study are: • Integrated layered instructions with no previous text displayed; • Integrated layered instructions with previous text displayed; and • Integrated layered instructions with the current step highlighted.

To analyse which of the three designs created the greatest learning outcomes, a quantitative approach was used. This involved using data collected through a postquestionnaire to gather information that cannot be directly observed about learner perceptions (their behaviours and attitudes) followed by a quiz testing the learner’s learning. Experiment 1 involved 30 first-year undergraduate students from the Faculty of Education who were directly exposed to the learning materials. Experiment 2 involved 36 second-year undergraduate students from the Faculty of Informatics (School of Information Systems and Technology); these learners were initially presented with a training tutorial about what to expect with the application before being exposed to the learning materials. Experiment 3 involved six honours/postgraduate students from the Faculty of Informatics (School of Information Systems and Technology), who completed both the training tutorial and learning materials whilst employing the think-aloud technique to review their interactions with the application. All groups were evenly divided across the three different learning designs.

It is hypothesised that, of the three different layered, integrated instructional design applications, the design with all previous information being displayed and the current step being highlighted would achieve the greatest level of learning outcomes for the participants. This is due to the fact that this application allows a learner to review all previous steps, constructing schemas of the learning materials in their long-term memory and focusing the learning on the current step within working memory.

The results of this thesis provide evidence that the initial hypothesis was incorrect as learners had the best learning outcomes when all previous text was displayed and unaltered. Thus, this study improves our understanding of how to develop layered methods of information display. A subjective finding of the study was that, although the application with all previous information being displayed resulted in the highest level of learning, there was no difference in learner attitudes to the ease-of-use and usefulness of the applications with all achieving high scores.