Cognitive Load Theory is increasingly influencing people’s thinking and hopefully will also influence their approach to teaching. At its heart, it is a theory about instructional (teaching) design. I find it useful for the classroom; it chimes with me as an ex-Science Teacher.
Sweller et al (2019) updated paper, Cognitive Architecture and Instructional Design: 20 Years Later is an interesting read. I wouldn’t describe it as light reading though others might; it depends how expert you are in the field.
The basic proposition of Cognitive Load Theory is: if our teaching aligns with how our pupils’ cognitive architecture is designed then learning will be enhanced. It is based on the idea that we have a working memory that can hold a limited amount of information for a limited time and an unlimited long term memory. The retention and connection of information in the long term memory transforms our ability to function as this overcomes the limits of our working memory. The challenge is how to acquire increasing amounts of useful information in our long term memory and access it readily when needed.
For people familiar with the original work the three different types of cognitive load – intrinsic (related to the complexity of the material being studied and expertise of the learner); extraneous (how the information is presented) and germane (the working memory committed to the learning) – has been amended with the intrinsic and germane working load now considered to be “closely intertwined” rather than two separate summative elements.
Human Cognitive Architecture
Sweller et al (2019) have developed aspects of their theory using advances in knowledge in Evolutionary Psychology. Biologically primary knowledge is knowledge that we have evolved to acquire over countless generations: learning how to listen and speak, recognising faces, solving unfamiliar problems and making plans for future events. Our cognitive systems have evolved to allow us to acquire these skills automatically and with limited effort.
Biologically secondary knowledge is knowledge we need because our culture has determined it is important. Our cognitive systems have not evolved separate structures or systems to enable us to acquire this information. We learn this secondary knowledge by piggy backing on to the cognitive structures and systems used to acquire biological primary knowledge. Our most effective teaching methods require alignment of knowledge acquisition with the five basic biological principles.
Download PDF – Human Cognitive Architecture
Sweller, J., van Merriënboer, J. and Paas, F. (2019). Cognitive Architecture and Instructional Design: 20 Years Later. Educational Psychology Review. (Sweller2019_Article_CognitiveArchitectureAndInstru)