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Guideline 3: Less is More

If you follow just one guideline, follow just this one: Less is More!

  • Keep it simple
  • Remove extraneous detail
  • Pare the learning down to essential components
  • Clearly explain how these components relate to one another
  • Help learners focus on what’s important.

The capacity for the brain to hold new information is limited.

  • By the capacity of working memory (sometimes called short-term memory)
  • By the how complex the material is to the learner

So, when learning try to communicate new knowledge:

  • no more then 2-4 elements at a given time (i.e. per slide)

Knitted Brain

Knitted Brain

Some background information and research in case you want to know:

  • When introducing new knowledge, the constraints of working memory limit how much information can be processed in a given time frame. Miller, 1950’s discovered the rule of 7 — no more than 7 items could be kept active in short term memory.
  • However, when you’re trying to understand something, relate components of an concept, compare and contrast, then you want no more than 2-4 elements in working memory. (Sweller’s cognitive load theory).
  • Interference¬† can limit recall of information. Recall is worse the more facts you learn about a concept. Interference literally knocks the old information out of your brain when attaching new facts to a concept, if the facts have no intrinsic relationship to each other. It interferes when the memory one is trying to create. This is why extraneous information is often not advised. (Anderson, 2006).
  • Fan effects – the more facts or links associated with a concept, the longer it will take to recall any one fact.
  • Redundancy effects, as opposed to interference,¬† can help with recall. Especially when the pieces are linked appropriately.
    • Example of irrelevant facts that INTERFERE:
      • Locke was unhappy as a student at Westminster.
      • Locke felt fruits were unwholesome for children.
    • Example 2 of REDUNDANT facts that help in recall.
      • Mozart made a long journey from Munich to Paris.
      • Mozart was intrigued by musical developments coming out of Paris.
  • People use redundant facts to infer the target concept.

For more information, read up on Sweller’s cognitive load theory, and Mayer’s theory of Multimedia Learning.

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