Students are regularly exposed to unpredictable learning environments which are rarely guided by cognitive factors. As a consequence, cognitive overload has become a major instructional factor that frequently impedes and disrupts student learning. Split attention learning environments, which are a common cause of cognitive overload for students, provided the focus of the current research. This PhD research project examines two methods of overcoming split-attention through either an instructor designed technique (integrated instructions) or a student focused technique (self managed load instructions). Three experiments were conducted with university students. The purpose of Experiment 1 was firstly to confirm the existence of the split attention effect within the instructional materials and secondly, to examine whether providing guidance to assist students manage split attention was useful when learning new information. The split attention effect was replicated but the third group who were provided guidance did not utilize the guidance in the manner intended. As a result think aloud protocols were conducted and an expert review of the materials. The materials were then piloted before experiment 2 was conducted.
The purpose of experiment 2 was to examine if the revised guidance assisted students in the management of split attention. The results of the pilot, expert review and think aloud protocols indicated the need to separate the guidance from the material to ensure it was utilised. This assists participants to manage cognitive load before attempting to the learn the material ␣ or in official terms, engage in preliminaries to learning. The third experiment was a replication of experiment 2, with an additional component examining whether students could transfer the skill of managing split attention. The results showed the skill appeared to be transferred and improved their learning ␣ despite the students claiming it did not assist their learning efforts.
The results of the series of experiments indicated that both techniques can potentially overcome the negative consequences of split attention and enhance the learning process. The positive implications of having students self manage their cognitive load are examined and future research directions will be discussed.