Extraneous Processing Overload in Instructional Design


Cognitive image

Cognitive strength is a construct that plays a vital role in instructional design and also a very interesting ongoing research topic in this field.

In the book Multimedia Learning (pg. 79), Mayer discusses about ‘Three kinds of cognitive load processing during learning; extraneous cognitive, essential cognitive and generative cognitive. Though all three of the cognitive processing are necessary for instructional design, but according to my opinion the bigger role is played by extraneous cognitive processing.

What is Extraneous Processing overload?

In an instructional lesson, when the cognitive processing of extraneous material is so demanding that there is little or no remaining cognitive capacity to engage learners in essential or productive processing. Extraneous processing overload is likely to happen when the lesson contains attention grasping extraneous material or when the lesson is presented in a confusing way. The extraneous processing is a cognitive processing in the instructional material that does not offer the instructional goal and it does not involve any learning process.

When we say extraneous material, it simply means, the extra material that is included in the lesson is not relevant to meet the instructional goal. E.g. if the instructional goal is to understand ‘how lighting works’, then extraneous material though interesting but irrelevant would be video of lightning strikes.

Five ways to reduce Extraneous Processing

To reduce the extraneous processing, Mayer ponders 5 principles, they are –

1. Coherence: Delete extraneous words, sounds or graphics.

2. Signaling: Highlight essential words or graphics.

3. Redundancy: Delete redundant captions from narrated animation.

4. Spatial contiguity: Place essential words next to corresponding graphics on the screen or page.

5. Temporal contiguity: Present corresponding words and pictures simultaneously.

These principles are considered to decrease extraneous processing so that learners can use their cognitive capacity for necessary and productive processing.

Ref – Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia Learning (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.


© Priya Gopalakrishnan and eLearningbuzz.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited.