cognitive load theory

Cognitive load theory: Research that teachers really need to understand
AUGUST 2017 Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation
Cognitive load theory is built upon two commonly accepted ideas. The first is that there is a limit to how much new information the human brain can process at one time. The second is that there are no known limits to how much stored information can be processed at one time. The aim of cognitive load research is therefore to develop instructional techniques and recommendations that fit within the characteristics of working memory, in order to maximise learning.
Explicit instruction involves teachers clearly showing students what to do and how to do it, rather than having students discover or construct information for themselves
how working memory and long-term memory process and store information
Working memory is the memory system where small amounts of information are stored for a very short duration (RAM). Long-term memory is the memory system where large amounts of information are stored semi-permanently (hard drive)
Cognitive load theory assumes that knowledge is stored in long- term memory in the form of ‘schemas’ 2 . A schema organises elements of information according to how they will be used. According to schema theory, skilled performance is developed through building ever greater numbers of increasingly complex schemas by combining elements of lower level schemas into higher level schemas. There is no limit to how complex schemas can become. An important process in schema construction is automation, whereby information can be processed automatically with minimal conscious effort. Automaticity occurs after extensive practice
Schemas provide a number of important functions that are relevant to learning. First, they provide a system for organising and storing knowledge. Second, and crucially for cognitive load theory, they reduce working memory load. This is because, although there are a limited number of elements that can be held in working memory at one time, a schema constitutes only a single element in working memory. In this way, a high level schema – with potentially infinite informational complexity – can effectively bypass the limits of working memory

Types of cognitive load

Cognitive load theory identifies three different types of cognitive load: intrinsic, extraneous and germane load
Intrinsic cognitive load relates to the inherent difficulty of the subject matter being learnt.

subject matter that is difficult for a novice may be very easy for an expert.
Extraneous cognitive load relates to how the subject matter is taught.
extraneous load is the ‘bad’ type of cognitive load, because it does not directly contribute to learning. Cognitive load theorists consider that instructional design will be most effective when it minimises extraneous load in order to free up the capacity of working memory
Germane cognitive load refers to the load imposed on the working memory by the process of learning – that is, the process of transferring information into the long-term memory through schema construction
the approach of decreasing extraneous cognitive load while increasing germane cognitive load will only be effective if the total cognitive load remains within the limits of working memory
Explicit teaching

more on educational theories in this IMS blog

1 Comment on cognitive load theory

Leave a Reply