Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Education


Students are constantly exposed to inefficient learning environments where materials are designed with a lack of consideration about the architecture of human memory. Split attention learning environments are a common cause of cognitive overload for students and the focus for this thesis was to investigate the effect on learning if students were instructed to manage split attention.

Three experiments investigated how students could manage their own cognitive load when there was evidence of split attention in learning materials. In all three experiments, participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions:

1. Conventional split attention formatted instructional materials (Group 1: split-attention)

2. Conventional format and given guidance on how to manage split-attention (Group 2: self-managed cognitive load)

3. Integrated instructional materials (Group 3 – instructor-managed cognitive load).

Experiment 1 indicated the guidance provided to Group 2 was not utilised by the students. This was best informed through use of the think aloud protocols. Group 3 outperformed Group 1 in the post-test performances for recall, near and far transfer items - indicating the split attention effect was present for the instructional materials.

Experiment 2 included a revision of the guidance provided to Group 2. Students allocated to Group 2 were asked to manage split-attention before attempting to learn the material. This yielded more promising results for self-management of cognitive load. Group 2 outperformed Group 1 on both near and far transfer items. Group 3 outperformed Group 1 on all post-test performance items, again indicating the split-attention effect.

Experiment 3 replicated the findings of Experiment 2 with almost identical findings. The second part of the experiment extended the research to include a transfer task that sought to measure the ability of students allocated to Group 2 to apply their knowledge of selfmanagement to a new set of instructional materials. The results indicated the students were able to transfer the self-management of cognitive load skills.

The series of experiments show definite potential for students to manage their load, if given the correct guidance that aligns with the rules governed by cognitive load theory in relation to the constraints of human memory.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.