Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Department of Psychological Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London, London WC1E 7HX, UK; Centre for Educational Neuroscience, University of London, London WC1E 7HX, UK. Electronic address: [Email]
Online learning environments are well-suited for tailoring the learning experience of children individually and on a large scale. An environment such as Math Garden allows children to practice exercises adapted to their specific mathematical ability; this is thought to maximize their mathematical skills. In the current experiment, we investigated whether learning environments should also consider the differential impact of cognitive load on children's math performance depending on their individual verbal working memory (WM) and inhibitory control (IC) capacity. A total of 39 children (8-11 years old) performed a multiple-choice computerized arithmetic game. Participants were randomly assigned to two conditions where the visibility of time pressure, a key feature in most gamified learning environments, was manipulated. Results showed that verbal WM was positively associated with arithmetic performance in general but that higher IC predicted better performance only when the time pressure was not visible. This effect was mostly driven by the younger children. Exploratory analyses of eye-tracking data (N = 36) showed that when time pressure was visible, children attended more often to the question (e.g., 6 × 8). In addition, when time pressure was visible, children with lower IC, in particular younger children, attended more often to answer options representing operant confusion (e.g., 9 × 4 = 13) and visited more answer options before responding. These findings suggest that tailoring the visibility of time pressure, based on a child's individual cognitive profile, could improve arithmetic performance and may in turn improve learning in online learning environments.