Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cogitating cognition

It's strange, but every time I read anything about cognitive load it seems to be in a pure, old-fashioned, "words on a page" kind of context. Really dense, heavy words on a page*, like those in this rather interesting article by John Sweller.

It interests me as I have been evaluating the work that I and colleagues have been producing to see how I can get better results out of our development team. In thinking about scripting challenges I also had a chance to consider my thoughts on how to structure pages - I feel cheated if I can read everything quickly and easily - it's almost as if I want to struggle! So, I favour pages that are quite busy - not complex for the sake of it, but I try to use the space to ensure lots of information is on hand, if not actually presented all the time.

But this is odd as it directly contrasts with my prime love - cutting the BS out of training waffle. I come to ID from a background in classroom training, mainly in "Business Language" use (strange term - not sure what it means) and I get quite lively in arguments about use of the passive voice, inappropriate deployment of the reflexive pronoun in place of the object pronoun and my despair for the souls of those who misuse the apostrophe.

However, it was the same job (and CIPD training route) where I learnt my trade that led me to acquire faith in a variety of unchallenged assumptions: great hoary legends like the progression from seeing to teaching graph (Donald Clark enjoys ripping in to such things). Amongst that there were approaches to designing learning that were handed down and received without challenge (I was just starting).

So my quandry has been, while there may be nothing I enjoy more than hacking a draft script down by 20, 30 or 50 % and presenting something clean to a client, if my aim is to simplify the words, am I undoing all the good by unthinkingly building pages that may distract? That's what I needed to work out.

Recent posts by various people have prompted me to spend more time reading than writing (hence my recent quietness) as I try to find evidence based guidance on developing training materials.

So it is that I come to be reading densely packed text as I am trying to get back to the source - and in the most part it means academic papers.

Quite serendipitously a mail in my inbox led me to unearth this little treasure trove of papers on the subject from several authors, but mostly Sweller - I haven't had time to read all the works, test the URLs for authenticity or cross-reference other authors, but they seem sound. At the bottom of the page I've even noticed links to Meyer and Clark, who were the stars of a post by Clive Shepherd that started me off on my learning trip, so it may be even more useful.

* Not that I'm making anything of this you understand: from what I gather - the cognitive impact of dense text in this academic setting is offset by the lack of other distractions - thankfully I'm not trying to relate it to extraneous diagrams or a word for word narration. And anyway, academia has its own style and conventions - wordiness mostly (and yes, I'm guilty of that one too, but this is my blog, not learning copy).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

TED launches a new super encyclopedia

Not sure whether this is directly related to the view that Wikipedia is not the greatest thing ever, one of the founders described it as "broken beyond repair" (sorry, I can't remember where I read that), but a new on-line super encyclopaedia focusing on the creatures of the earth is to be launched.

Anyway, this is from the press release:

Many of the world’s leading scientific institutions today announced the launch of the Encyclopedia of Life, an unprecedented global effort to document all 1.8 million named species of animals, plants, and other forms of life on Earth. For the first time in the history of the planet, scientists, students, and citizens will have multi-media access to all known living species, even those that have just been discovered.

The big difference with this EoL and Wikipedia, other than the focussed remit, is that, in the interests of accuracy, this won't be a wiki but an expert authored resource, albeit with a larger number of experts than might have been the case in the past. In this fashion it hopes to avoid the damage to reputation that the unscrupulous "false" editors have wrought upon Wikipedia. Is this tacit recognition of the problems with wikis? That they allow anyone, credible or not, to "interfere" with the efforts of genuine experts?

Whatever the case, I think that this will be a great resource for learning that truly rocks. It's not actually up and running yet - it was only first discussed in March, but some mock-ups are available. Have a look at the Encyclopaedia of Life here.