Optimizing cognitive load for learning from computer-based science simulations

Hyunjeong Lee, Jan L. Plass, Bruce D. Homer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

150 Scopus citations


How can cognitive load in visual displays of computer simulations be optimized? Middle-school chemistry students (N = 257) learned with a simulation of the ideal gas law. Visual complexity was manipulated by separating the display of the simulations in 2 screens (low complexity) or presenting all information on 1 screen (high complexity). The mode of visual representation in the simulation was manipulated by presenting important information in symbolic form only (symbolic representations) or by adding iconic information to the display (iconic + symbolic representations), locating the sliders controlling the simulation separated from the simulation or integrating them, and graphing either only the most recent simulation result or showing all results taken. Separated screen displays and the use of optimized visual displays each promoted comprehension and transfer, especially for low prior-knowledge learners. An expertise reversal effect was found for learners' prior general science knowledge. Results indicate that intrinsic and extraneous cognitive load in visual displays can be manipulated and that learners' prior knowledge moderates the effectiveness of these load manipulations. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)902-913
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2006


  • Cognitive load
  • Computer simulation
  • Learners
  • Prior knowledge
  • Science education
  • Visual displays
  • Visualization


Dive into the research topics of 'Optimizing cognitive load for learning from computer-based science simulations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this