How to Avoid Cognitive Overload in E-learning – Any Thoughts?

I have gone through a number of e-learning courses which are designed using a combination of text, images and of course voice over.

However there is an inherent flaw in the way these courses are designed and most often these courses fail to engage you to the fullest.

The reasons that you may not like an e-learning course are many such as:

  • Too much of information or no information
  • Too much of text on screen
  • Irrelevance of images used
  • Voice over being used just for the heck of it

Such e-learning courses cause cognitive overload and that’s why they fail to engage you.

If cognitive overload sounds new to you, check this link to learn more on this.

Designing an e-learning course is not just placing images, writing text and adding some interactivity.

Instructional Designers need to combine text, visual and narrative elements in such a way that the course is effective and engaging to learners and I am sure this is a great challenge indeed.

Tom Kuhlmann has a very interesting post in his blog that gives good examples of cognitive overload and how to avoid it.

Now it’s your turn to speak

  • What are your pain points in designing an e-learning course?
  • Have you ever developed an highly engaging and effective e-learning course? If so please share your design ideas

4 Responses

  1. Hi Rupa, thanks for asking these interesting questions. I think that one of the big challenges in designing elearning is to get everyone on the team to (1) agree on the business goal the project is trying to achieve and (2) use the elearning to address only the behaviors required to reach that goal.

    If we use a narrow focus like that, we’re less likely to include too much information. Instead, we can include only the information that the learners need in order to develop the required behaviors.

    This approach also encourages us to create interactive activities that are based in the real world, because we remember that we’re trying to change behavior, not just transfer information.

    So when our clients or managers say they need the learners to “know” something, we can ask, “Why do they need to know it? What do you need them to do with that knowledge?” Then we can focus our development on creating realistic, interesting interactions that will help learners apply their new knowledge.

  2. Hello Rupa,

    I agree with Cathy. However, I think the challenge is that many times the organization wants to dump info and not really change behaviors or reach for real performance goals.

    I use a performance consulting model to help identify the gaps. If the client doesn’t want to fill real gaps, then I try to make the course as quick and painless as possible, to get the learner in and out and back to work.

    By using a performance consulting model you accomplish what Cathy says and get the the meat of the matter.


  3. I work for a company dealing totally with soft skills. I’ve got a trial version of Articulate Engage and Quizmaker, but they seem too simplistic, especially quizmaker. I want something where learners can make decisions relating to a case study and then get feedback.

    It’s just hard to be visual. I have abstract concepts to present, for which it’s very hard to keep coming up with metaphor-type diagrams. Do you Engage users get tired of the same few diagrams–pyramid, circle, etc.?

  4. Thanks to all you guys who have taken time to pen your views.

    This is really an interesting discussion that’s happening here.

    Most tools have templates that present you a rough idea as to how an interactivity or quiz can be designed.

    Using the existing models as they are, again and again gets too boring.

    Something new and creative always engages. For example the presentation by Common Craft
    ( is so fresh and so creative.

    The format is simple. The tool used to create the presentation is one of the commonly used tools. Yet the concept and idea of presenting information is soo striking.

    I guess no school or course can teach you on how to come up with such creative ideas.

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