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Effects of background context and signaling on comprehension recall and cognitive load: The perspective of cognitive load theory

Minjung Song, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This study was designed to examine the effects of different geographical background contexts for information on comprehension, recall, and cognitive load. Two different contexts, American geographical background and Korean geographical background, were employed to frame explanations of global warming phenomena. Students' comprehension was calibrated by two different levels of measurement, which were fact-level learning (shallow understanding) and inference-making (deep understanding). Cognitive load was gauged by self-reported levels of motivation, difficulty, and mental effort. It was hypothesized that an American context would be more familiar and Korean context less familiar for American students. It was also hypothesized that unfamiliar contexts would create disadvantages in comprehension, recall, and cognitive load, but that signaling would improve comprehension and recall and reduce cognitive load, especially in unfamiliar contexts. ^ Students from two educational psychology courses were randomly assigned to one of four groups in which they read one of the four different types of passages online: an American signaled passage, an American nonsignaled passage, a Korean signaled passage, and a Korean nonsignaled passage. Participants took comprehension and recall tests and reported their perceived levels of motivation, difficulty, and mental effort in the same online environment. Results were analyzed by MANCOVA (multivariate analysis of covariance). The analyses revealed that (1) students were significantly more confident in their American geographical prior knowledge, which was interpreted as an indicator that an American context for information was more familiar to them; (2) context familiarity had positive effects on students' levels of inference-making, their self-reported levels of motivation, and perceived levels of difficulty; and (3) signaling had a negative effect on inference-making. An expertise reversal effect was noted for participants' deep understanding. The findings of the current study imply that learning materials that are framed within an unfamiliar context can create disadvantages for students' motivation and deep comprehension. Future research is needed to find ways for compensating for those disadvantages.^

Subject Area

Education, Educational Psychology|Psychology, Cognitive

Recommended Citation

Song, Minjung, "Effects of background context and signaling on comprehension recall and cognitive load: The perspective of cognitive load theory" (2011). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3466483.