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Interface Design: A Focus on Cognitive Science
  Antonio DrommiGregory W. UlfertsDan Shoemaker College of Business Administration, University of Detroit MercyDetroit, MI, 48219, USA 
This paper studies the issue of cognitive load theory and its implications to teaching interface design principles in aGUI or Interface Design course.  The quality of interface design will increase effectiveness of human performance if working memory is emphasized.  Cognitive science research in cognitive load raises interesting questions of anindividual's memory load and its relevance to computer based models.  It describes structures of information processingfrom long term memory, which stores knowledge and skills to using working memory that enable the individual toperform tasks that are embedded in a computer interface.  This review focuses on the concept of cognitive load theorybased on research by John Sweller and others in the field that brought this theory to the forefront.  The issues of splitattention and redundancy effects from information, spatial learning in real life situations versus computer simulationand exploration space control in reference to computer based systems is reviewed for enriching the interface designcurriculum.  This paper will review the issues of cognitive load theory and its relevance for developing computer basedinterface systems and models. 
Cognitive load, working memory, interface design, split attention, redundancy, performance
Processing of information requires the user to retrieveinformation from long-term and short-term memory.  Inrecent years, cognitive science studies have focused onmental process of learning, memory and problemsolving (Cooper, 1998).  Cognitive load theory is atheory that describes learning structures of informationprocessing involving long term memory which storesknowledge and skills on a permanent basis and workingmemory which perform tasks associated withconsciousness (Cooper, 1998).  The premise of cognitive load theory is that quality will increase if emphasis is given to the limitation of working memory(Cooper, 1998).Long-term memory can hold an unlimited number of hierarchical organized elements known as a schema.The schema allows a person to retrieve sub-elements of information as a single element (Kalyuga, Chandler, andSweller, 1998).  The role of a facilitator is to transform anovice into an expert within a subject area or procedure.Much of the research in cognitive science measured thedifferences between expert and novice problem solvers(Cooper, 1990).  It is suggested that a designer mustlook at the speed and accuracy of expert performers.The schema allows a user to categorize a problemaccording to a solution mode; however, novices that donot process a schema are unable to categorize a problem(Cooper, 1990).  John Sweller's research suggests thateffective materials enhance and facilitate learning byactivating and directing cognitive resources on theactivities to schema acquisition.  According to Sweller,limited working memory makes it difficult to gather elements of information simultaneously.  When multipleinformation elements interact, they must be presentedsimultaneously creating heavy cognitive load.  Theresult of heavy cognitive load weakens the success of learning or performing tasks (Wilson and Cole, 1996).Similar studies on cognitive load was conducted by FredG. Paas who studied cognitive load for problem solvingin complex cognitive domains such as computer programming, mathematics, and science.  Thesedomains are constrained by the limited cognitive processcapacity of human memory (Paas, and Merrienboer,1994).  Studies by Paas measured effectiveness of performing statistical problems of a conventionalstrategy with two alternative strategies using worked-outproblems and partly worked out problems.  Paashypothesized that the worked and completion conditionswould yield less mental effort and lower instructionaltime than conventional methods (Paas, 1992).  Paas'sstudy concluded that the use of partly or completedworked-out problems is more efficient knowledge basefor problem solving than those resulting from instruction
emphasizing conventional problems (Paas, 1992).  In alater study, Paas, and Merrienboer conducted a similar experiment that more effective and efficient transfer performance is reached with less time and less mentaleffort for training than would students in conventionalconditions (Paas, and Merrienboer, 1994).  
Human working memory has an impact in learningcomplex tasks.  The effectiveness of design is partlydependent on managing unnecessary cognitive load(Yeung, 1999).  Redundant information is an obstacle toschema acquisition where the person processesnonessential information.  Consequently, nonessentialinformation increases cognitive load.  The split attentionaffect occurs when people are required to divide their attention and mentally integrate multiple sources of information resulting in less effective acquisition of information.  On the other hand, if the person waspresented the same material in a physically integratedform, the integrated format reduces working memoryload (Mousavi, Low, and Sweller, 1995).  The studiesby Mayer in 1989 and Gallini in 1990 showed discretetext and unlabeled diagrams were ineffective comparedto text and labeled diagrams (Mousavi, Low, andSweller, 1995).  Computer based systems requires theinterface design to maximize human performance or interaction with the system.  Cognitive load is animportant factor when designing interfaces.  Measuringthe effects of cognitive load to the interface can provideand unique insight to effect of human interaction andperformance outcomes.The issue at stake is how a person benefits fromintegrated information.  Expert users may not benefitfrom integrated approach where they are reluctantlyprocessing unnecessary information loweringcomprehension.  However, when lower level users aregiven an integrated format, their mental resources areavailable for comprehension reducing split attention(Yeung, 1999).Cognitive load theory incorporates a variety of procedures on the assumption that working memory islimited and skilled performance requires schemas heldby long term memory.  The information presented topeople and the activities required should be structured toeliminate any load on working memory and increaseaccess to schemas.  Multiple sources of informationdirected to people may find one or more of the sourcesineffective by itself (Kalyuga, Chandler, and Sweller,1998).  Individuals achieve understanding only byintegrating the sources together.  An example would bea circuit diagram with no text.  Alone the diagram is notuseful unless the text and the diagram are mentallyintegrated.  The two sources of information physicallyintegrated reduce the need for mental integration.Consequently, working memory load is reduced, freeingup resources for schema acquisition (Kalyuga, Chandler,and Sweller, 1998).  The source of information retrieveddepends on the nature of the information and the level of expertise of the individual.  A novice group of individuals may have the basic concepts required tounderstand the information such as the principles of circuit diagrams.  However, they may have insufficientknowledge or an acquired schema that deals with theinformation.  On the other hand, experts have sufficientknowledge of circuits from training and exposure toelectrical equipment.  They have experience readingcircuit diagrams where they developed a schema thatexplains the function of each type of circuit.  In thiscase, text on the circuit diagram is considered redundantfor these users since they acquired a schema.  The expertuser may try to ignore the text but may have difficultyignoring it resulting in redundancy (Kalyuga, Chandler,and Sweller, 1998).  A computer interface withintegrated text and information may result in redundancyfor expert users where they prefer to perform certaintasks using shortcuts.  Split attention effect occurs whenmultiple sources of information are difficult or impossible to understand by itself.  The informationmust be integrated mentally or physically for theinformation to be understandable.  Mental integrationcreates heavy cognitive load.  The redundancy effectoccurred where multiple sources of information areunderstandable by themselves where each sourceprovides similar information but in a different form.Therefore, unnecessary working memory load is theresult of people having to split their attention betweensources of information.  Expert computer users cansuffer split attention effect if interfaces of software toolsdesign for a specific group or audience can be becomeineffective lowering performance levels. 
 People have multiple working memory stores, channels,or processors associated with auditory or visualprocessing.  The auditory and visual system processesdifferent types of information independently (Mousavi,Low, and Sweller, 1995).  The independence of the twosystems affects the process of working memory.Presenting information in a mixed auditory and visualmode determines how working memory processesinformation.  For example, results were worse whenpeople were asked to learn a series of words presented inauditory form rather than in visual mode.  Hearingswords while listening to speech interfered with memoryof words than reading them.  Therefore, more capacity isavailable when two modes are used together (Mousavi,Low, and Sweller, 1995).  Effective cognitive capacitycan be increased and performance levels can beenhanced when auditory and visual working memory isused.  Integrating audio and multimedia to the interfacecan allow a user the option to perform difficult taskswithout increasing cognitive load in working memory. 
Mastering a difficult interface is a form of problemsolving.  Some individuals adapt and learn quickly whileothers take more time to build their mental model of theinterface.  A study using a computer spreadsheetapplication to compare direct instruction versusdiscovery learning used three groups of participantswhere one group was given a tutorial manual to thecomputer application.  The second group was theproblem-solving group was given some structure butallowed discovery learning.  The third group was theexploration group had the least amount of structure andcreated their own problems to solve.  This study byCharney et al. in 1990 measured tutorial-based learnerswho were given the problems with the solutions asworked examples.  The problem-solving group had lessstructure and more discovery learning to solve theproblems, where the third group had no structure(Tuovinen and Sweller, 1999).  The problem-solvinggroup took the longest amount of time but resulted in thefastest mean time for reaching the correct solution usingthe spreadsheet application.  The exploration groupbecame more competent in a limited range of theapplication features than the interactive tutorial andproblem solving groups (Tuovinen and Sweller, 1999).The studies revealed that cognitive load is greatest onproblem solving and exploration groups where thetutorial based worked examples group cognitive load isreduced because people do not use mental resources indefining task parameters (Tuovinen and Sweller, 1999).Many computer-based tools come with tutorial-basedinstruction.  Though it reduces cognitive load, it doesnot necessarily improve mastery of the application.  
 Many studies have researched the use of computer models as a tool for spatial learning (Rossano and Moak,1998).  An individual's spatial representation has anorientation in memory that corresponds to a map.  Aperson aligns his or herself in an environment equal to apreferred orientation; the person usually makes accuratejudgments.  When the person is oriented differently fromthe preferred state, it results in judgment errors (Rossanoand Moak, 1998).  Computer models simulate directenvironmental experience as a spatial learning toolwhere computer simulated environments allows theperson to freely navigate through the simulation.  Theissue in the study of orientation specificity is the actualand simulated tests of orientation.  Rossano and Moak refer to a study conducted by Thorndyke and Hayes-Roth in 1982 where participants were located in aspecific environment and were required to indicate thedirection to other points.  In a simulated test, the personwas seated at a table imagining being in another location.  The person in the simulated test performedworse than the person in the actual environment.  This isa consequence of the cognitive load resulting fromhaving to imagine spatial location (Rossano and Moak,1998).  In this situation, cognitive load increased asmore interactive elements are held in working memorysimultaneously.  Simulated tests are higher in cognitiveload than actual tests (Rossano and Moak, 1998).  Theactual test provided the location and facing directionreducing the amount of working memory.  Therefore,studies using computer models revealed low results.The learning from a computer model is less engagingthan direct experience (Rossano and Moak, 1998).  In areal environment, a person uses multiple sensory input.The sensory inputs connect to stronger accessiblememories than when using a computer model.  Theconcern in using a computer model is the mental burdenon the person.  Rossano and Moak conducted a study toprove that computer models would eliminate orientationspecificity and result in improved performance (Rossanoand Moak, 1998).  The study used a computer model of a college campus where users were given an orientationtest with a view visually presented on a computer screen.  The participants did not have to imagine theview.  A second group studied maps of the campus.  Thecomputer group acquired survey knowledge of "understanding configurable relations among elementsof the environment" (Rossano and Moak, 1998, p. 486).Other studies have shown that memorizing a mapimproved the person's direction and distance judgmentscompared to those with directional experience (Rossanoand Moak, 1998).  Spatial knowledge shows peopleslowly construct a survey representation in long-termmemory.  With the Rossono and Moak study, it washypothesized that the computer model experience woulddevelop more slowly than the direct experience.  Manyof the results were inconclusive.  Further studies usingcomputer models enhanced the computer experienceusing a walk through software to create realistic three-dimensional representations.  The results of these studieswere inconclusive where computer exposed subjects andmap-exposed subjects showed no differences (Rossanoand Moak, 1998).  
 Working memory for people who engage in computer-based tasks requires holding information in the mindseveral seconds during cognitive processing.  Theoverload of memory creates performance errors.  Aneffective use of working memory required to conductcomputer-based tasks require alternative interfacedesigns and computer-based training protocols (Gevins,Smith, and Leong, 1998).  For example, the studiesshowed that working memory load increased because of the demands placed on the working memory resourcesby computer-based tasks (Gevins, Smith, and Leong,1998).  This study is extremely important for theresearch of human computer interaction.In cognitive load theory, people will process materials or tasks in different ways.  If the person acquires

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