Instructional Game Design Using Cognitive Load Theory

Instructional Game Design Using Cognitive Load Theory

Wenhao David Huang (University of Illinois, USA) and Tristan Johnson (Florida State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-808-6.ch066
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This chapter proposes an instructional game design framework based on the 4C/ID-model and cognitive load theory, its associated theoretical foundation. The proposed systematic design framework serves as the processing link to connect games’ powerful characteristics in enhancing learning experience with desired learning outcomes. In this chapter we focus on the cognitive aspect of learning outcome: the development of transferable schema. This chapter introduces design guidelines to attain specific game characteristic by prioritizing the design components in 4C/ID-model. Each game characteristic consists of three levels of design emphasis: preliminary, secondary, and tertiary. The ultimate goal of this chapter is to initiate a series of dialogue between cognitive learning outcome, systematic instructional design, and instructional game design thereby seeking to improve the overall game design and instructional efficiency.
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In recent years, the use of games for teaching and learning has grown significantly in the training industry and K-16 educational settings. There is, however, a lack of understanding between what games readily provide (i.e., games’ characteristics) and what the learners need from games (i.e., learning outcome). Such deficiency makes it difficult for instructional designers to systematically apply a design framework as well as to justify their decisions in using games to enhance learning. Being equipped by their multi-dimensional characteristics, the instructional potential of games therefore cannot be fully utilized until there is substantive evidence linking specific instructional benefits to various game characteristics. Moreover, the lack of systematic instructional game design process supports unnecessarily prolonged, costly, and inefficient game design.

Games today are usually designed and developed based on generic film production procedures as well as filmmakers’ mental models. Entertaining is the key design objective. All actions taken in game design are focused on one reason: to entertain the players. But what happens if we are to design instructional games? Does the entertainment element still override everything? While this key objective works for game developers, if games are to become a viable tool with instructional value, games need to more than entertain, they need to facilitate learning. This chapter believes that the design focus should be shifted to enhancing learning experience while still utilizes entertainment to support learner engagement. The ultimate goal of designing instructional games is to preserve the complex nature of games in order to optimize their impact on learning. The lack of a systematic design framework, however, often leaves some games’ learning-enhancing features unexplored. As a result, instructional games’ capabilities are not fully manifested for the purposes of enhancing learning and learning transfer to performance settings.

The purpose of this chapter is to describe a systematic instructional game design framework to address the issues just presented. We identify the cognitive load theory-based 4C/ID-model as the prototypical model to base the instructional game design framework, emphasizing the 4C/ID-model’s focus on schema construction for complex learning and performance transfer. The following sections first discuss games’ characteristics based on previous studies. Second, the chapter introduces the 4C/ID-model in the context of cognitive load theory; and third we propose an instructional game design framework based on 4C/ID-model to attain specific game characteristics in support of complex cognitive learning. Finally, the chapter proposes a design framework for future research with the intention to initiate meaningful dialogue on how we can empirically investigate the learning impact of instructional games.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Germane Cognitive Load: This type of cognitive load is directly associated with the construction of schema. Instructional designers should aim to increase the level of germane cognitive load, induced by the instruction, as much as possible.

Extraneous Cognitive Load: This type of cognitive load only associates with the searching and organization of information, which should occupy the least amount of working memory. Instructional designers should utilize multimedia and other cognitive-oriented design to reduce the extraneous cognitive load.

Game: A game is a context in which individual or teamed players, bounded by rules, compete in attaining identified game objectives.

Cognitive Load: The amount of mental effort learners invest during the learning process. Which is also closely associated with learner’ working memory capacity. The purpose of instructional design is to optimize the allocation of cognitive load to induce the deep learning process.

Intrinsic Cognitive Load: This cognitive load is inherent with the difficulty of the subject matter (e.g., organic chemistry versus multiplication). The cognitive load level cannot be manipulated by instructional design.

Schema: A schema is a memory unit stored in learners’ long-term memory. Schema consists of mental models for reasoning and cognitive strategies for problem-solving.

4C/ID-Model: 4C/ID-model is a non-linear and systematic processing model for designing complex learning environment based on cognitive load theory. The model consists of learning tasks, supportive information, part-task practices, and just-in-time information. The design focus of this model is on the integration and coordination of various levels of intended problem-solving skills. As a result, learners are able to transfer desired performance to various contexts with efficiency.

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