Cognitive load and knowledge sharing in Learning Networks, Interactive Learning Environments

Ya P. Hsiao , Francis Brouns , Liesbeth Kester & Peter Sloep (2013) Cognitive
load and knowledge sharing in Learning Networks, Interactive Learning Environments, 21:1, 89-100,
DOI: 10.1080/10494820.2010.548068

Hsiao et al adopt a definition of non formal learning

“Nonformal learning is here defined as intentional learning based on personalized learning goals, exempt from externally imposed evaluation criteria and institutional supervision (Livingstone, 1999; Van Merrienboer, Kirschner, Paas, Sloep, & Caniels, 2009)”

Livingstone, D.W. (1999). Exploring the icebergs of adult learning: Findings of the first
Canadian survey of informal learning practices. The Canadian Journal for the Study of
Adult Education, 13, 49–72.

Van Merrie¨nboer, J., Kirschner, P., Paas, F., Sloep, P., & Canie¨ls, M. (2009). Towards an
integrated approach for research on lifelong learning. Educational Technology Magazine,
49, 3–15.

and a definition of Learning networks that’s comparable to Couros’s PLNs.

‘‘online, social network that is designed to support non-formal learning in a particular domain’’ (Kester et al., 2006a; Sloep, 2009; Sloep et al., 2007). Learners have to take responsibilities to organize their own learning activities and to acquire knowledge from others to achieve their learning goals (Kester et al., 2007).”

Sloep, P. (2009, 11–13 June). Fostering sociability in learning networks through ad-hoc transient communities. Paper presented at the Computer-Mediated Social Networking Conference, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Sloep, P., Kester, L., Brouns, F., Van Rosmalen, P., De Vries, F., De Croock, M., & Koper,
R., (2007, 14–16 March). Ad hoc transient communities to enhance social interaction and
spread tutor responsibilities. Paper presented at the The Sixth IASTED International
Conference Web-Based Education, Chamonix, France.

This link is made explicit , as the Connectivist Literature is minimal, and little work on cMOOCs, Connectivism and Cognitive Load has been done. The identification of both non-formal learning, which fits with Connectivist concerns with non formal networks, and Learning Networks, whose architecture reflects the networked architecture of Connectivism, is useful.

“During knowledge sharing in LNs, collaboration is a means to achieve reciprocal
understanding between learners and to construct knowledge by performing activities
through interaction with others.” p90. Here is another explicit parallell.

The Introduction argues that s, for some participants in collaborative knowledge construction in these informal learning networks, some scaffolding and structure is needed.

The paper focuses on a Peer Support System that dirests peers to useful peers based on knowledge requests. So, it;s focus is not exactly inline with mine.

Page 90 has a basic outline of Cognitive Load knoweldge construction, the focus of my resuearch. It argues that ”

Learning takes place via schema construction, elaboration, and
automation stored in long-term memory. During the learning process, novel
information must be first attended to and processed by working memory before it
can be stored in the long-term memory (Sweller, Van Merrie¨nboer, & Paas, 1998).”

Furthermore, working memory has limitations,, and can process only two or three novel items at a time.

Intrinsic, germane and extraneous load, when added together, need to remain within the limits of working memory processing power if learning is to be effective.

The upshot here is that cognitive load is limited, novices will need to master basic techniques, ideas, strategies and practices before they can continue, and bottlenecks in cognitve processing are the key issue.

(Paas et al., 2003a; Sweller
et al., 1998) (Van Gog & Paas, 2008; Van Merrie¨nboer & Sweller, 2005)

In Learning domains where there are no entry requirements, heterogeneous groups tend to be formed, where peoiple have different lkevels of k=subject knowledge, backgrounds, competence levels and purposes ( summary of Hsiao, p92)Hsiao et al assert that this can add exraneous Cognitive Load, as the activities of finding other particiapnts to interact with, determining who has suitable knowledge are likely to do this, and “detract from learning rather than increase it” P91.

To sum up, without support that deals with heterogeneous group composition
and online communication, knowledge sharing in unstructired LNs imposes additional
extraneous load. It does so because extra cognitive resources have to be devoted
to finding a suitable collaborator and finding out how best to communicate with
others online, and managing the unfamiliar tools, reducing the available resources for processing the information and knowledge that is available.

Task Complexity and Cognitive Load

“Non formal learners choose their own learning actions” in contrast to the structured task design of formal learning. “Collaboration is initiated ad hoc because of the perceived complexity of the learning “task” – this is a description of Connectivist Learning.

Cog Load theory does support collaborative learning, in specific and circumscribed ways. Learners, seeking to simplify complext tasks might seek to lighten their load through knowledge sharing, and collaborative help. See Kirschner et al.

“According to this argument, the created joint working memory has
more processing capacity and can therefore deal with more complex learning actions
than can each individual working memory. However, these cognitive benefits can
only work well if collaborating learners know how to share knowledge with each
other. As argued, without support learners, LNs need to allocate extra cognitive
resources to organizing and maintaining knowledge sharing.” p93

In short, extra learning may be triggered by the activities of explaining and elaborating, and a group can be considered as sharing working memories, and spreading intrinsic load, freeing up cognitive resources for learning. But, this is only the case if, as noted the sharing is structiured. If unstructured, the sharing is likely to increase cognitive load.

Hsiao et al identify three facets of the networkeed lerning experience that can detract cognitive resources from knowledge construction.

Finding collaborators (and finding useful or apt collaborators), the specific rigours of online as opposed to face to face collaboration, and lack of knowledge with regard to collaborating and knowledge sharing.

These both increase cognitive load, and undermine the potential cognitive load advantages specific to collaboration.

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