This study examined the effect of cognitive load on knowledge construction through the use of web-based layered integrated instructional design techniques. The premise through using this approach was that it would better facilitate a learner’s schema development. This research focused on how the design of web-based integrated instructional materials can utilise the principles of Cognitive Load Theory (CLT), to optimise the learning process within the university environment for learning models of procedural tasks. The study compared three different layered integrated instructional designs to identify which approach had the greatest benefit on learning outcomes. The procedural task that was used involved teaching students the model of human memory and information processing. Two experiments were conducted with Experiment 1 (N = 30, 1st Year education students) being given direct access to the web-based material and in Experiment 2 (N = 36, 2nd Year Information Technology students) given access to a tutorial on how to interact with the web-based material before interacting with it. The three techniques used were:
•Integrated layered instructions with no previous text displayed: Information was presented to the learner in a step-by-step fashion with no previous text being displayed.
•Integrated layered instructions with previous text displayed: Information was presented to the learner with all previous text being displayed, which learners can review as they progress throughout the procedural task.
•Integrated layered instructions with the current step highlighted: Information was presented to the learner with all previous text being displayed and the current step being highlighted.
This study has demonstrated significance in the following areas. Initially it identified how using different types of layered integrated instructional designs integrated with CLT concepts can reduce cognitive load of learners, which is unique, previous studies have compared separated diagrams with text to integrated formats and pop-up text (see Erhel & Jamet, 2006). This study has built on prior research, which identified that the concept of layering information enabled learners to increase their learning outcomes when using worked examples (Chandler & Sweller, 1991; Sweller, 2006).
It was hypothesised that, of the three different web-based materials used, the design with all previous information being displayed and the current step highlighted would achieve the greatest level of learning. As this application allows the participant to review all previous steps, constructing schemas of the learning materials in their long-term memory and focusing the learning on the current step within working memory. The results provide evidence that the initial hypothesis was incorrect, in Experiment 1 learners had the best learning outcomes when all previous text was displayed however highlighting the current step was a disadvantage than keeping all of the text the same; however in Experiment 2 there was no statistical difference between the two mentioned techniques. In both Experiments when text was removed reduced learning was identified, this result is significant as many web-based materials remove the text when a learner moves to the next learning element. Overall, this study emphasised the effectiveness of effective layered integrated instructional designs in creating better learning outcomes.