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Parents and teen working on homework on a laptop

The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Cognitive Load

Authors: Yerin Seung; info@ciddl.org

Integrating technology into education is inevitable and potentially transformative in the digital age. Artificial intelligence (AI), in particular, stands out as a powerful tool with significant implications in education. AI may influence several cognitive variables in learning processes. One of the critical factors is cognitive load—the total amount of mental effort used in working memory. Understanding how AI influences cognitive load can help educators optimize educational practices to meet students’ diverse needs better.

What is Cognitive Load?

Cognitive load refers to the mental effort exerted in the working memory during learning activities (Sweller, 1988, 2011). It is typically categorized into intrinsic, extraneous, and germane cognitive loads. Intrinsic load is inherent to the difficulty of information and the knowledge material, the extraneous load is tied to how information is presented, and germane load is related to the effort put into schema construction or permanently storing knowledge in long-term memory. Effective educational practices aim to minimize intrinsic and extraneous loads while maximizing germane load.

Potential Advantages of AI on Cognitive Load

Artificial intelligence (AI) can significantly enhance the learning experience through personalization, optimization of information delivery, and increased engagement. By tailoring the learning experiences to the unique needs of individual students, AI can adjust the difficulty and presentation of materials. This maintains an optimal intrinsic cognitive load, making learning more efficient and less overwhelming. Additionally, AI tools can streamline the presentation of information and reduce extraneous cognitive load. For example, AI-powered tools or platforms can simplify complex concepts with visual aids or interactive simulations, making it easier for students to understand challenging topics. Furthermore, AI technologies such as gamified learning environments can positively influence germane cognitive load by deeply engaging students with the content and promoting effective schema construction, thereby enhancing motivation and knowledge retention.

Potential Disadvantages of AI on Cognitive Load

Integrating AI into education can benefit many aspects, but it also carries disadvantages if not used wisely. Most importantly, it has a risk of fostering an over-reliance on technology. Students may become excessively dependent on AI, diminishing their ability to engage with learning materials independently. Such dependence can take away even the proper amount of intrinsic cognitive load required for learning. It can adversely affect learning basic knowledge and skills, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Additionally, if AI tools are not designed to be user-friendly, their complexity can increase extraneous cognitive load by complicating the learning process rather than easing it. This could make educational experiences more challenging and undermine the very benefits that AI aims to provide.

Implications in Education

Integrating AI into education offers significant opportunities but also requires careful consideration of its effects on cognitive load. Educators must strive to balance the use of technology with traditional learning methods to ensure that AI tools enhance, rather than hinder, educational outcomes. The challenge for educators, policymakers, and technologists is responsibly and effectively harnessing this potential. By critically assessing AI's advantages and disadvantages in managing cognitive load, we can better prepare for a future where technology and education are increasingly intertwined.

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References

Sweller, J. (1988). Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Cognitive Science, 12(2), 257–285.

Sweller, J. (2011). Cognitive Load Theory. In Psychology of Learning and Motivation (Vol. 55, pp. 37–76). Elsevier. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-387691-1.00002-8