Learner, Patient, and Supervisor Features Are Associated With Different Types of Cognitive Load During Procedural Skills Training: Implications for Teaching and Instructional Design

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Abstract

Purpose

Cognitive load theory, focusing on limits of the working memory, is relevant to medical education; however, factors associated with cognitive load during procedural skills training are not well characterized. The authors sought to determine how features of learners, patients/tasks, settings, and supervisors were associated with three types of cognitive load among learners performing a specific procedure, colonoscopy, to identify implications for procedural teaching.

Method

Data were collected through an electronically administered survey sent to 1,061 U.S. gastroenterology fellows during the 2014–2015 academic year; 477 (45.0%) participated. Participants completed the survey immediately following a colonoscopy. Using multivariable linear regression analyses, the authors identified sets of features associated with intrinsic, extraneous, and germane loads.

Results

Features associated with intrinsic load included learners (prior experience and year in training negatively associated, fatigue positively associated) and patient/tasks (procedural complexity positively associated, better patient tolerance negatively associated). Features associated with extraneous load included learners (fatigue positively associated), setting (queue order positively associated), and supervisors (supervisor engagement and confidence negatively associated). Only one feature, supervisor engagement, was (positively) associated with germane load.

Conclusions

These data support practical recommendations for teaching procedural skills through the lens of cognitive load theory. To optimize intrinsic load, level of experience and competence of learners should be balanced with procedural complexity; part-task approaches and scaffolding may be beneficial. To reduce extraneous load, teachers should remain engaged, and factors within the procedural setting that may interfere with learning should be minimized. To optimize germane load, teachers should remain engaged.

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