L&D: Ramping Up to Complex Authenticity

It’s All About Cognitive Load

From: Using Cognitive Load Theory to Inform Simulation Design and Practice

Research in cognitive load theory argues that learners benefit from a staged approach that develops over time from simple constituent tasks to more complex and difficult holistic practice over time.


Setting up the Simulation Tasks Appropriately Can Make for a More Effective Learning Environment

Some simulation educators argue that because the real world of clinical practice constantly throws up novel, surprising, and challenging cases, simulated practice should reflect that and it is appropriate to shock and surprise learners in scenarios. However, cognitive load theory argues that while such surprise and emergency situations do reflect clinical practice, they do not make ideal learning tasks. By setting up simulations carefully and specifically by lessening the potential breadth of the problem space, a learner has less extraneous load to deal with. For instance, learners can be sent a brief of the scenarios and reminders of appropriate clinical protocols a couple of days in advance of the simulation. This gives learners the opportunity to remind themselves of the clinical protocols and thus lessens the extraneous cognitive load when they arrive in the simulation environment. Because the point of many simulation courses is to focus on developing learners’ nontechnical skills, providing clinical scenario details in advance means that learners can refresh their clinical skills before coming in and focus on nontechnical skills.



Ease into the Complexity.

Avoid the Overload – Initially

Back in the early 1980s I tagged along on a project that my business partner, the late Ray Svenson, had where our client was working on a set of simulations on a complex Control Board.

They gave us the nickel tour at one point where we visited, I think, 3 rooms, where their Learners sat at Control Board Mock Ups of varied complexity (and authenticity) until we got to the 4th room where the real Control Board sat.

Their Instructors were all x-military and they explained that what they were doing was (in my words 30+ years later) was to ease the Learner into reality. They would minimize the Learners’ focus to a minimum number of gauges and dials/switches for the initial instruction and hands-on exercises.

Once they graduated from that, the Learners would move to the next room where that Control Board had additional gauges and dials/switches – including those from the first room’s Control Board.


Again, after Instruction and Practice with Feedback on that next Control Board they would move to the third room – and finally to the fourth room where they sat at the real deal.


I don’t recall their use of the term/phrase Cognitive Load – but almost every time I hear that phrase I think back to that experience/exposure – and the lesson I learned.

Ease Into the Complexity

In my own writings and presentations and training others in my methods – I use the phrase “from Hades” in terms of “the Lesson from Hades” and the “Instructional Activity from Hades” – indicating the worst – but authentic – performance situation that the learner was likely to face back on the job – and that that chunk of content would need to prepare them to face – successfully.


I never believed in having the Learner immediately/initially jump into the deep end of the pool – most of the time.

There were times when we did just that – instructionally. When the Learner’s needed to be advised just how bad, but real, things could get.

A “wake up call” as it were.


We’d start them off with an immediate APPO (Application Exercise) from Hades – and then move on to an INFO and DEMO and APPO dealing with simpler Content and Exercises. To be followed by another round or two or three of successively more difficult INFOs and DEMOs and APPOs – until we reached the end point: the worst likely Performance Situation they might come across.

Then the Design decisions shifted to “if” and “when” and “how” to reinforce those more difficult – and most often less frequent – Performance Situations – because people forget.

To help you remember that people forget…

The Who – Eminence Front

The sun shines
And people forget
They spray flies as the speedboat glides
And people forget
Forget they’re hiding
The girls smile
And people forget
The snow packs as the skier tracks
And people forget
Forget they’re hiding.

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3 comments on “L&D: Ramping Up to Complex Authenticity

  1. Pingback: T&D: 13 eLearning Scenario Tips | EPPIC - Pursuing Performance

  2. Pingback: T&D: Backward Chaining the Design & Development | EPPIC - Pursuing Performance

  3. Pingback: T&D: 3 Secret Sauces for Developing Authentic Performance-Based T&D | EPPIC - Pursuing Performance

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