The effects of databases as cognitive tools in a multimedia problem-based learning environment
Computer-based cognitive tools can offer learners an intellectual partnership that transcends the limitation of human cognition, such as limitations to memory, thinking, and problem solving. Databases, for example, can function as cognitive tools because of their organized and searchable nature. The purpose of this study is to examine the potential of databases to function as cognitive tools to promote cognitive skill acquisition, share learners’ cognitive load, and impact learning. A total of 98 students from 6 intact sixth grade science classes at a suburban middle school in the southern United States participated in the study. 57.9% of the participants were Caucasian, 24% were Hispanic, 18% were African American, and 0.01% were Asian. The six classes were assigned to one of three treatment conditions: (a) online database, (b) paper-based database, (c) no database. All groups completed a 3-week instructional program using the same version of Alien Rescue, a multimedia learning environment, which contains the same content and tools. Measures of task difficulty rating, instructional efficiency, transfer, and factual knowledge recall were administered to evaluate learners’ cognitive load, cognitive skills, and overall performance. Students in online database groups received positive and higher instructional efficiency scores, which indicated a more efficient allocation of cognitive load. Online database groups also received significantly higher scores on cognitive skill transfer test than did students in both paper-based database and non-database groups. In addition, students in online database groups scored significantly higher on achievement tests than both the paper-based database and non-database groups. The results support researcher’s hypothesis that the online database tool can reduce learners’ extraneous cognitive load and increase learners’ germane cognitive load; support the transfer of cognitive skills; and help learners perform better in a multimedia learning environment. However, future research is needed to confirm the results and to further investigate the effects of individual differences on learning using database tools.