Cognitive science, to put in simply, is the study of the mind. The purpose of cognitive science is to develop models that help explain human perception, thinking, and learning with the idea that the mind is an information processor(Dillon). The processor can receive, stores, retrieves, transforms, and transmits information.
Many attempts have been made to apply cognitive science to human-computer interaction (HCI). It aims to help enhance user experience based on the areas which human are good and bad at and applying cognitive science in HCI to extend human capabilities and compensate for their weaknesses.
For now, we would focus on the aspect of learning – how good design interfaces can help learners to pick up knowledge fast and effectively, bearing in mind the strengths and limitations of humans.
What are some of the design aspects that are important to aid in the learning of new content and topics?
Let’s take a look at some of the factors which are important in delivering a good learning experience with the use of interactive technologies.
Minimizing cognitive load
Interaction sequences should be designed to minimise short term memory load i.e not requiring the users to remember characters or numbers from one screen to another. Learning in a virtual world should be made simple for users to grasp the concepts, instead of memorising what was covered earlier on. Mind maps or linking of various topics could be used for users to get a better picture of what they are learning and re-iterate the concepts as they move on.
Similarly, a major contribution of cognitive science perspectives to user interface design has been in the area of task sequencing. (Dillon) User interface designers are encouraged to minimise the number of steps where information must be retained by the user. All necessary information should be provided in the interface for the user to exploit as needed. Users should be able to switch back to the topics they have covered easily and this could help to maximise their learning curve.
Screen readability and image quality
To perform most information tasks with a computer in the process of learning, the user must be able to extract and process visual stimuli reliably and quickly. (Dillon) As users interact with different interface, the importance of readability cannot be overlooked and poor visual could be a barrier to the environment of learning for users in a virtual setting. Therefore, an ideal typography (i.e safe fonts, instead of fanciful ones) should be used and the font size should be big enough to be easily readable for the users.
Learning by doing
The most successful systems are those that enable a user to get something done as soon as possible. Cognitive scientists emphasise the importance of clear and informative feedback, and the ability to undo actions as more important in supporting the user through the learning curve (Dillon).
Having gained some knowledge by using one part of a system, users will expect to be able to apply this throughout the system. Particular attention should be paid to the consistent use of terms, colours and highlighting techniques, and the positioning of task related zones on the screen so as to support generalization by the user. Consistency is crucial through the process of learning for users.. A completely new type of interface would make the users feel strange and tough to handle which in turn would affect the learning curve for users.
Using images and icons
Images are key important tools which can greatly help to aid learning. It can easily grab the attention of users and better relate to concepts instead of using plain text. With the use of technology, it is easier to create interface with extensive use of graphic capabilities to better teach or relate concepts to users. Pop-up labels such as graphs and tables could also be used to explain meaning to users who find the representations difficult to decipher.
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In summary, the use of interactive technologies provide alternative ways of representing and interacting with information that are not possible with traditional methods such as books ot videos. It offers a huge potential for users to learn in a more effectively way (i.e exploring new ideas), thus enhancing their learning curve. However, it is important to realise that learning through the use of interactive techonolgies may not be that simple to achieve and various aspects should be taken note of based on the strengths and weaknesses of humans. Much emphasis should be placed on the interface design in capturing the attention of the user and making the virtual learning environment condusive and interactive for the users.