Asking for Directions (or how much Cognitive Load?)

directionsGPS is a life saver.  It’s fast and efficient.  You can ask your GPS to take you the scenic route or the fast route via the major highways.  You can ask your GPS to speak in a woman’s voice or a man’s voice.  Some GPS devices have the option to speak in a British accent.

I recently heard a National Public Radio episode about people’s experience with GPS.  Callers chimed in with a whole host of stories.  One caller named his GPS, “Sweetheart.”  He would say, “OK Sweetheart, we’re going to Jessie’s apartment today.”  What a hoot.  Likewise, people cited their frustrations when sometimes things go awry.  The GPS would send people down side streets only to end up 3 miles extra from their destination. Plus, who hasn’t had the “Recalculating” message sound when you overshoot an exit.  It goes on excessively.

This whole episode comes to mind as I am on a business trip this week.  I’ve never been to this particular city, so of course, I had my GPS.  How handy.  It got me directly to the hotel and the site where I will be training all week.

So, here’s the rub.  Cognitive load.  Working memory and long term memory.  I found it difficult to get a handle on two lefts, straight through a light, then the next left.  I forgot it the moment I got to my destination.  “Consider the “rule of 7.” George Miller, an early researcher in cognitive load theory, who suggested that the largest number of discrete pieces of information the brain could manage was seven, plus or minus 2” as quoted by Jane Bozarth’s article “Nuts and Bolts: Brain Bandwidth – Cognitive Load Theory and Instructional Design, Learning Solutions, 2010.

I’ll never forget some sage advice a real estate broker once told me.  Learn two or three main streets in a town or city and know how they intersect or bisect.  That’s how you’ll learn a new town.

How true.  Main Street to King Street, Main Street to Prince Street and Main Street to Pleasant Street.  That’s downtown Northampton!


One thought on “Asking for Directions (or how much Cognitive Load?)

  1. Interesting observation. GPS gives us one direction at a time. Extreme chunking, perhaps? Would one feel more secure with getting directions a British accent? More authoritative?

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