Enhancing Learner Flow & Cognitive Absorption
There are two primary benefits to infinite scrolling and streamlined navigation: enhanced learner “flow” and increased cognitive absorption.
Benefit 1: Enhanced learner “flow.”
The state of flow, a concept popularized by Csíkszentmihályi (2008), allows a user to focus solely on the task at hand and is oftentimes accompanied by a transformation of time. People experiencing a state of flow when learning online reported that they retained more information (Skadberg & Kimmel, 2004). Researchers have found that cognitive absorption and flow are closely related (Agarwal & Karahanna, 2000).
This new, infinite scrolling requires fewer clicks to navigate through. Nielsen (1994) identifies that users will generally disengage and lose interest after three clicks. Interrupting a learner’s focused attention requires additional time to get back into a state of flow (Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2009), and inconsistent navigation can disrupt a user’s flow state.
Facilitating optimal online navigation, which is characteristic of a state of flow, can:
- Lengthen users’ online sessions (Hsu, Chang, & Chen, 2012; Koufaris, 2002)
- Increase learning performance and positive affect (Chen, Wigand, & Nilan, 2000; Kiili, 2005; Pearce, 2005).
Inconsistent navigation also causes extraneous cognitive load (Hu, Hu, & Fang, 2017).
Benefit 2: Increased cognitive absorption.
Sweller’s (1988) cognitive load theory puts limited working memory at the forefront of instructional design. By reducing extraneous cognitive load and redirecting learners' attention to cognitive processes that are directly relevant to the construction of mental schemas, instructional designers can increase a learner’s cognitive absorption and thus understanding of a topic (Sweller, Van Merriënboer, & Paas, 1998).
Streamlining the path navigation and introducing infinite scrolling help to keep the learner oriented and focused on the content. Disorientation occurs when learners (Edwards & Hardman, 1989; Wojdymksi & Kalyanaraman, 2016):
- Don’t know where to navigate next
- Know where to navigate next but don’t know how to get there
- Don’t know their current position relative to the overall structure of the environment.
Users will lose interest in websites when they experience disorientation (McDonald & Stevenson, 1998) because they become frustrated and cannot accomplish their goals (Bessière et al., 2003). In addition, navigability of an interface plays a crucial role in online information processing in that it influences (Gwizdka & Spence, 2007; Marchionini, 1997; Sundar, Kalyanaraman, & Brown, 2003):
- users’ ability to find content
- their capacity to process the content
- their perceptions of the experience.
By reducing extraneous cognitive load, learners will also retain knowledge better. Learners can only retain 7(+/-2) pieces of information in their limited working memory (Miller, 1956). E-learning also requires sustained periods of attention from learners, but attentional resources are likely to be depleted more rapidly because of the cognitive tax that comes along with actively encoding and conceptualizing new information (Federman, 2019).
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