Working memory and chunking – without understanding these vital concepts in human terms, we cannot design information systems interfaces that will work with people’s ability to retain only so much at one time in memory. If the interface does not communicate changing statuses and provide other memory support, most people will sit and stare at the computer and try to remember what to do next.
I became aware of this research literature in the first semester of my doctoral studies in cognitive science with the early published work of George Miller and other cognitive scientists.
When I began reading the first paragraph of his foundational article on this topic, I was enthralled by the way he posed it as a personal dilemma.
“My problem is that I have been persecuted by an integer. For seven years this number has followed me around, has intruded in my most private data, and has assaulted me from the pages of our most public journals. This number assumes a variety of disguises, being sometimes a little larger and sometimes a little smaller than usual, but never changing so much as to be unrecognizable. The persistence with which this number plagues me is far more than a random accident. There is, to quote a famous senator, a design behind it, some pattern governing its appearances. Either there really is something unusual about the number or else I am suffering from delusions of persecution.”
If you are as fascinated by this leading paragraph, I invite you to click on the link below to read what follows and share your comments on how this constraint can affect the way we use information and instructional systems, and how we should design them with this limit in mind.
Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review 63 (2): 81–97. doi:10.1037/h0043158
Available online at: http://cogprints.org/730/1/miller.html
Research, theory, and application in instructional design since the publication of this article in the 1950s has centered around the concept of “cognitive load”and how to manage it through more efficient learning environments (e.g., less complex content, more sequenced instruction, etc.).