(Not) coping with cognitive overload
In Greenville last week Chris Craft led one of the best presentations I've ever been in on (it was about how to present effectively, so had an interest in being top of the game). His work on cognitive load theory is, this week at NECC, striking a chord with me. There's. Too. Much. Noise.
I mean noise in the physical sense and in this metaphorical one. At EduBloggerCon conversations were cut down in their prime as people moved on to other, in my case, less engaging ones. In the Bloggers' Café conversations are fantastic but interrupted with urgent meetings or "you gotta see this"s or just someone having loud fun two feet away.
My cognitive load is constantly tipping over into extraneous. Let Chris's talk explain:
Intrinsic load is the natural load required to complete a task. It can be easy sometimes (driving from home to school) or heavy on others (being an air traffic controller), but we can be trained to cope with it.
The Germane level of load is the optimum level we can cope with, where we maximise the load we are under. In lessons and projects we can feel that Germane load as 'flow', where everything's going in our favour, and then...
Extraneous load comes along, where we all go wrong, especially when we are communicating information in, say, a presentation. It's when, mid flow, the grass starts getting cut outside. Or when someone has to leave a meeting early.
Overload occurs here. The person who missed the earlier part of the meeting, or left early, or the sensation that someone is talking at you when you're in deep conversation with another person opposite, or the kid who doesn't understand where you're at, who isn't with you because they didn't understand the initial point of the project...
When they reach that breaking point they default, they default to the only reaction that's available. They default to an old familiar way, an automatic behaviour, a kind of behaviour where we immediately kick ourselves and ask: "Why on earth did I say that? Where on earth did that come from?"
This is what has been happening to me for the past two days. I've become someone I hate: snarky, off-task, unproductive, unthinking. I've started caring about whether people are streaming video around me where I never did before (I can't have a chat in confidence without 40 people in cyberspace listening in - just happened). Worst of all, I'm finding that without my usual 'white space' or 'beta time' to think, I have nothing to say to people. I have no ideas for the article on the state of social media in education that was due on Friday, that I want to get finished for tomorrow.
I feel like the glass that's got water gushing into it from the tap - despite all that water this particular glass is always going to be half empty when the tap eventually turns off. Most of the input will have fallen off down the drain.