Collaboration modality, cognitive load, and science inquiry learning in virtual inquiry environments

Benjamin E. Erlandson, Brian Nelson, Wilhelmina Savenye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Educational multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) have been shown to be effective platforms for situated science inquiry curricula. While researchers find MUVEs to be supportive of collaborative scientific inquiry processes, the complex mix of multi-modal messages present in MUVEs can lead to cognitive overload, with learners unable to effectively process the rich information encountered in virtual space. In this study, we investigated the effect of communication modality on cognitive load and science inquiry learning in students completing a science inquiry curriculum in an educational MUVE. Seventy-eight undergraduate education majors from a large southwestern university participated in this control-treatment study. Significant positive results were found for reducing cognitive load for participants communicating through voice-based chat, although this reduction was not found to influence learning outcomes. We conclude that use of voice-based communication can successfully reduce cognitive load in MUVE-based inquiry curricula.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)693-710
Number of pages18
JournalEducational Technology Research and Development
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010


  • Cognitive load
  • Collaboration
  • Modality
  • Virtual environments
  • VoIP

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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