Identity Theft: An Example of Cognitive Load Theory

What is the connection between identity theft and designing for cognitive load?

A close colleague recently discovered her inbox filling with spam at a rate of over 1,000 messages every twelve hours. Buried in the avalanche was a single email from a bank congratulating her on a new account that she hadn’t opened. Upon contacting the bank, she discovered that someone had obtained her social security number, opened the account, and linked it to second account under yet a different name.

This is not germane to my learning.

The strategy is known as “email bombing” — flood someone’s email with obvious spam on the expectation that they won’t notice the one message signaling identity theft. In other words, criminals are maximizing extraneous load to decrease learning.

My university returned to in-person undergraduate instruction last year, but I’m focusing on reducing extraneous load for the fall semester as if I were still teaching these courses online. This means dropping some non-essential content so that students get more opportunities to practice applying a minimum amount of knowledge to achieve a specific learning outcome. For example, in the course that includes game design, students will have five rather than four opportunities to evaluate existing games before finishing the construction of their own game. In the course where students will try to predict the future, they will practice the different elements of good forecasting multiple times. More on this in my next post.

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