Learning procedures via working examples: An investigation of the cognitive load effects

Neal Craig Goldberg, Fordham University


This study investigated the cognitive load effects of different types of working examples for learning a computer authoring program, HyperCard. Working examples which are designed for computer instructions provide the learner with a visual account of the steps necessary to perform a task. Previous research has hypothesized about the cognitive load of unidimensional worked examples found in textbooks, or the usefulness of learning by demonstration. However, as of yet studies of the cognitive load of instruction by working examples have not been addressed empirically and may be essential to the design and evaluation of education material, including on-line computer support. Sixty-six students attending Fordham University were recruited and randomly assigned to one of eight conditions: (integrated, audio + demonstration, video, and textual examples) each designed with either five or eight procedures. After completing an introduction to HyperCard, students viewed the working example while completing a secondary load task of foot tapping to assess the objective workload of the examples. Preferences for this mode of instruction and their usefulness were gathered before students completed both an identical and a transfer task while concurrently working on the secondary task. Data were analyzed using four (condition) by two (procedure) analyses of variance. The hypotheses tested were: (a) the type of working example would have a significant effect on the dependent measures of objective cognitive workload, times to complete the identical and transfer task, the number of times the working example was consulted, and preference ratings; and (b) the number of procedures would have a significant effect on these dependent measures. Results of this investigation strongly confirm that there are cognitive load benefits associated with a video working example to learn identical computing tasks. Textual instructions were found to be most efficient if the goal is to prepare students to transfer knowledge to a different task. Neither an audio with demonstration nor an integrated working example were found to be the best choice of working example to reduce cognitive load for acquiring computer skills. This finding supports an alternative hypothesis that these modes of instruction are not engaging and, therefore, may not be suited for learning computer-related tasks.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Cognitive therapy

Recommended Citation

Goldberg, Neal Craig, "Learning procedures via working examples: An investigation of the cognitive load effects" (1996). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9631036.