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This week, we're tackling the following questions:

  • How does an instructor's mood in a video lecture impact learners?
  • What does a learner's cognitive load tell us about potential training transfer?
  • How can instructors reduce the impact of seductive details in virtual reality training?

Instructor Emotions in Video Lectures

In recorded lectures, do people learn differently from a visibly happy instructor than from a bored instructor? That’s the question that Horovitz & Mayer address in the June 2021 issue of Computers in Human Behavior. In their study (n=112), these researchers hypothesized that learners who viewed a video lecture from a happy instructor would be more likely to feel happier and perform better on course assessments than those who viewed lectures delivered by an obviously bored instructor. Their findings indicate that learners who viewed the happy instructor’s videos were more likely to feel motivated to learn, but ultimately, the instructor’s emotions had no effect on the learners’ posttest scores. Still, we think it's worth putting on a happy face.

Key Takeaway: Recording an instructional video? Your positive affect can have important implications for your individual learners’ moods and motivations.

Read More ($): Horovitz, T. & Mayer, R. E. (2021). Learning with human and virtual instructors who display happy or bored emotions in video lectures. Computers in Human Behavior, 119.

Cognitive Load and Training Performance

We’ve talked about Sweller’s cognitive load theory in past issues of LSW and had previously remarked that it was often hard to objectively measure. We’re editing that statement after further research, which indicates that there are physiological signs of a learner’s cognitive load (including pupil diameter and blink rate; see Krejtz et al., 2018). In a study conducted with medical professionals, researchers investigated whether these physiological measurements of cognitive load, along with self-reported measurements, were related to users’ performance in a training simulation. Their findings indicated that learners’ performance in the training simulation was predicted by users’ previous knowledge and their cognitive load during the simulation. So, why is this significant? Researchers explain that “high cognitive load during simulation training is associated with impaired learning and incomplete skill transfer to clinical practice. Measuring cognitive load can thus help to identify individuals whose skills are not fully consolidated” (Aldekhyl, Cavalcanti, & Naismith, 2018, p. 23).

Key Takeaway: Measuring learners’ cognitive load during simulation training can give us important indicators about how successfully they’ll be able to transfer that training to the real world. (Now all you have to do is get your hands on an eye-tracking device.)

Read More (open): Aldekhyl, S., Cavalcanti, R.B. & Naismith, L.M. (2018). Cognitive load predicts point-of-care ultrasound simulator performance. Perspectives on Medical Education, 7, 23–32.

Minimizing the Distraction of Seductive Details

Virtual reality (VR) training programs are useful for workplace training because they allow for material to be presented in a controlled digital environment. However, a common issue with VR training programs is distraction caused by seductive details: graphics and other elements that are interesting and attention-grabbing but not relevant to the instruction.

Pre-training programs can help curtail these distractions and maximize learning by providing assistance before the simulation. Specifically, researchers have found that attentional advice pre-training programs are the most effective to counteract the negative effects of seductive details in VR training programs. This type of pre-training directs attention toward specific aspects of the learning program and focuses learners’ attention on instructional materials rather than seductive details. (Thanks to our intern Kelley for her contributions to this summary!)

Key Takeaway: Practitioners can apply attentional advice interventions before introducing a VR training program to reduce the possibility of distraction. We’d also add that, as a general rule, instructional designers should aim to limit the inclusion of seductive details when creating training programs of any kind.

Read More ($): Howard, M. C., & Lee, J. (2020). Pre‐training interventions to counteract seductive details in virtual reality training programs. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 31(1), 13–29.

Pets of Learning Science Weekly

Thanks to reader Asmara M. for sending in a picture of Squid, her Netherland Dwarf bunny. We're told that Squid loves treats and ear rubs (but only when he's in the mood). Can we talk about the brilliance of naming your pet after another animal? (As someone who once had a puppy named Turtle, I'm a fan. -- Julia)

Send us your pet pics at

Wondering why we’re including animal photos in a learning science newsletter? It may seem weird, we admit. But we’re banking on the baby schema effect and the “power of Kawaii.” So, send us your cute pet pics -- you’re helping us all learn better!

The LSW Crew

Learning Science Weekly is written and edited by Julia Huprich, Ph.D. Our head of growth and community is Julieta Cygiel.

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