• Measurement of Intrinsic Cognitive Load and Mental Effort in Pre-Licensure Baccalaureate Nursing Students: A Focus on Instructional Design in the Synchronous Online Classroom

      Smith, Nicole Elena; Georgia Baptist College of Nursing
      One of the most significant challenges in nursing education is identifying effective approaches to teach the foundational knowledge of nursing. Students are often overwhelmed by instruction. It is important for educators to explore how instructional design strategies and student characteristics impact learning. Based on the cognitive load theory, all instructional designs should be analyzed from a cognitive load perspective. The purpose of this study was to examine how instructional design strategies, influenced by the principles of the cognitive load theory, affect the cognitive load and mental effort of pre-licensure baccalaureate nursing (BSN) students in the United States. This study used a two-within repeated-measures design examining students' perceived mental effort and intrinsic cognitive load while controlling for prior knowledge (N = 39). There were two within-factors with two levels [complexity: simple and complex; and instructional strategy: cooperative learning (CPL) and cooperative learning with a problem-based component (CPL + PBL)]. All participants experienced a short lecture, then completed the Paas scale and Cognitive Load Rating Scale (CLRS) subscale for intrinsic load after engaging in a simple CPL or CPL + PBL activity followed by a complex CPL or CPL + PBL activity. In both cases, the simple activities required slightly more mental effort and intrinsic cognitive load when compared to the complex activities. The CPL + PBL instructional strategy required slightly less mental effort (Paas) and intrinsic load (CLRS) when compared to CPL. As content became more complex, the CPL + PBL strategy resulted in lower perceived mental effort and intrinsic cognitive load. However, differences were practically and statistically insignificant. Preliminary evidence suggests that when tasks are complex, the CPL + PBL strategy may be more impactful in its effect on mental effort and cognitive load. Further research is warranted to examine the potential of the novelty effect and total cognitive load while including student characteristics such as prior knowledge as a control variable. Building support for effective instructional design strategies that consider students’ cognitive load has the potential to improve pedagogical practices in nursing education leading to a better-prepared nurse graduate and improved patient outcomes.