Online Training Overload: 9 Surprising Symptoms Of Cognitive Overwhelm

Are you short-circuiting your employees’ minds with too much information? In this article, I’ll share 9 surprising symptoms to help you diagnose cognitive overwhelm in online training.

How To Diagnose Cognitive Overwhelm In Online Training

The human brain can only absorb so much before it starts to experience side effects, which prevents employees from assimilating information and fine-tuning their skill sets. Simply put, cognitive overwhelm can wreak havoc on team dynamics and your online training ROI. But how do you know when enough is enough and you should make your online training content easier to digest? Here are 9 tell-tale signs that your employees may be experiencing cognitive overwhelm.

1. Forget Previously Learned Information

The brain has finite space for new information. Our memories must also constantly be reinforced to keep knowledge intact. Cognitive overwhelm can lead to forgetfulness, even of basic concepts or ideas that were previously acquired. If your employees are having a hard time remembering the steps involved in a task or how to perform mundane work duties, it may be time to chunk information to alleviate cognitive overwhelm.

2. Unable To Apply Knowledge In A Real-World Context

You’ve thrown a significant amount of information at your employees, hoping something will stick, only to find that they’re unable to apply the ideas in the workplace. They may grasp the theory to some extent. However, they cannot comprehend the related concepts or apply it in a real-world context. This is due to the fact that application requires higher-order thinking. Employees must fully understand the subject matter in order to use it practically, such as to solve problems and overcome challenges.

3. Stress Or Anxiety In The Workplace

online training cognitive overloadThere are times when stress levels are elevated on the job. However, cognitive overwhelm is another common cause of stress or anxiety in the workplace. Especially when there is no identifiable trigger, such as a difficult customer or co-worker conflict. Cognitive overwhelm may manifest itself as negative emotions which hinder productivity and performance. Employees are so mentally taxed that they feel worn out or pressured, which takes its toll on their emotional well-being.

4. Failure To Comply With Company Policy

You’ve covered all the company protocols in your latest compliance online training course but employees are still failing to comply and are putting your organization’s reputation at stake. Not to mention, running the risk of regulatory violations and penalties. There may be two distinct cognitive overwhelm symptoms to blame. The first is that they simply cannot remember the information because it taxed their memory banks. The second is that they underestimate the importance of company policies because they cannot grasp the real-world repercussions. For this reason, it’s crucial to offer bite-sized support tools to refresh their memory and emphasize the practical applications. Namely, how violations can impact their job performance and the organization as a whole.

5. Tension Among Co-Workers

Tension is at an all-time high within your organization. Co-workers are arguing, and conflicts are the new norm. One possible cause is cognitive overwhelm. The frustration and stress your employees experience in online training is spilling out on the sales floor. In addition, they are failing to see the importance of healthy team dynamics due to ineffective training. However, incorporating social and collaborative online training activities can help them build teamwork skills and improve comprehension. They’re able to work together to solve problems and break the subject matter into easily digestible components.

6. Diminished Self-Confidence

Employees who are overwhelmed and frustrated during the online training experience tend to suffer from diminished self-confidence. Specifically, regarding work tasks and responsibilities. They don’t feel equipped to handle situations because they haven’t absorbed the knowledge or skills they need. As a result, employees miss valuable opportunities and never venture out of their comfort zone. You may notice that staff members let others volunteer for more complex job duties even if it may lead to recognition or a promotion.

7. Inability To Make Decisions On The Job

online training cognitive overload

Effective online training gives employees the tools they need to achieve their goals and realize their potential. But cognitive overwhelm prevents them from acquiring these tools, leaving them underprepared. Thus, they’re unable to make decisions on the job or solve problems without the aid of a co-worker or superior. All the knowledge they require to overcome obstacles has been diminished by the forgetting curve, or they didn’t assimilate the information in the first place because there was too much flooding in. Additionally, they cannot connect new ideas to their pre-existing mental schema, which hinders their decision-making process and narrows their professional knowledge base.

8. Low Participation Scores

This is the most quantifiable symptom of cognitive overwhelm in online training. Your LMS reportsprovide mass quantities of Big Data, which allows you to track everything from employee assessment results to satisfaction scores. However, you can also use these LMS metrics to gauge employee participation and diagnose areas for improvement. Low engagement or participation scores indicate an overall lack of interest or, more commonly, the early signs of cognitive overwhelm. Employees can’t actively engage and click away prematurely as a safety mechanism. The brain is so overwhelmed by the influx of info that it shuts off or becomes distracted.

9. Lack Of Concentration

Employees simply can’t concentrate on the task at hand or fulfill their work responsibilities. They seem distracted, even if there aren’t any noticeable external influences vying for their attention. This may be attributed to internal distractors, such as a barrage of information that’s short-circuited their mental synapses. There is so much data that they don’t know how to process or store in their memory banks.

Have you noticed any of these symptoms among your workforce? While some signs may be more difficult to decipher, such as emotional strain, others are often out in the open. Such as failing to comply with policies, for example. However, maintaining open communication and soliciting feedback from your employees can help disclose areas of concern.

Do you know the mental limitations of your mature audience? Read the article Cognitive Limitations Of Adult Learners In eLearning: 6 Factors To Consider to determine the cognitive limitations of adult learners, so that you can increase knowledge retention and prevent cognitive overwhelm.

About the Author


Christopher Pappas is founder of The eLearning Industry’s Network, which is the largest online community of professionals involved in the eLearning Industry. Christopher holds an MBA, and an MEd (Learning Design) from BGSU. eLearning Blogger | EduTechpreneur | eLearning Analyst | Speaker | Social Media Addict