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Sweller - Cognitive Load Theory and Instructional Design

Sweller - Cognitive Load Theory and Instructional Design



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Cognitive Load Theory and Instructional Design:Recent Developments
Fred Paas
 Educational Technology Expertise Center Open University of The Netherlands, Heerlen
Alexander Renkl
 Department of PsychologyUniversity of Freiburg, Germany
John Sweller
School of EducationThe University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Cognitive load theory (CLT) originated in the 1980s and un-derwent substantial development and expansion in the 1990sby researchers from around the globe. As the articles in thisspecial issue demonstrate, it is a major theory providing aframeworkforinvestigationsintocognitiveprocessesandin-structional design. By simultaneously considering the struc-ture of information and the cognitive architecture that allowslearners to process that information, cognitive load theoristshavebeenabletogenerateauniquevarietyofnewandsome-times counterintuitive instructional designs and procedures.The genesis of this special issue emerged from an interna-tionalsymposiumon CLTthatwas organized atthe2001 Bi-annualConferenceoftheEuropeanAssociationforResearchon Learning and Instruction, Fribourg, Switzerland. Most of thearticlesthatfollowarebasedoncontributionstothatsym-posium and discuss the most recent work carried out withinthe cognitive load framework. Before summarizing those ar-ticles, we provide a brief outline of CLT.Althoughtheinformationthatlearnersmustprocessvarieson many dimensions, the extent to which relevant elementsinteract is a critical feature. Information varies on a contin-uum from low to high in element interactivity. Each elementof low-element interactivity material can be understood andlearned individually without consideration of any other ele-ments. Learning what the usual 12 function keys effect in aphoto-editing program provides an example. Elementinteractivity is low because each item can be understood andlearned without reference to any other items. In contrast,learninghowtoeditaphotoonacomputerprovidesanexam-ple of high-element interactivity. Changing the color tones,darkness,andcontrastofthepicturecannotbeconsideredin-dependently because they interact. The elements of high-ele-ment interactivity material can be learned individually, butthey cannot be understood until all of the elements and theirinteractionsareprocessedsimultaneously.Asaconsequence,high-elementinteractivitymaterialisdifficulttounderstand.Element interactivity is the driver of our first category of cognitive load. That category is called
becausedemandsonworkingmemorycapacityimposedby element interactivity are intrinsic to the material beinglearned. Different materials differ in their levels of elementinteractivityandthusintrinsiccognitiveload,andtheycannotbe altered by instructional manipulations; only a simplerlearning task that omits some interacting elements can bechosen to reduce this type of load. The omission of essential,interacting elements will compromise sophisticated under-standingbutmaybeunavoidablewithverycomplex,high-el-ement interactivity tasks. Subsequent additions of omittedelements will permit understanding to occur. Simultaneousprocessingofallessentialelementsmustoccureventuallyde-spite the high-intrinsic cognitive load because it is only thenthat understanding commences.Onemayarguethatthisaspectofthestructureofinforma-tionhasdriventheevolutionofhumancognitivearchitecture.An architecture is required that can handle high-elementinteractivity material. Human cognitive architecture met thisrequirement by its combination of working and long-term
(1), 1–4Copyright © 2003, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.RequestsforreprintsshouldbesenttoJohnSweller,SchoolofEducation,University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2026, Australia. E-mail: j.sweller@unsw.edu.au
in which all conscious cognitiveprocessing occurs, can handle only a very limited num-ber—possibly no more than two or three—of novel interact-ing elements. This number is far below the number of interacting elements that occurs in most substantive areas of human intellectual activity. Alone, working memory wouldonly permit relatively trivial human cognitive activities.
provideshumanswiththeabilitytovastlyexpand this processing ability. This memory store can con-tain vast numbers of 
—cognitive constructs that in-corporate multiple elements of information into a singleelement with a specific function.Schemascanbebroughtfromlong-termtoworkingmem-ory.Whereasworkingmemorymight,forexample,onlydealwith one element (e.g., a cognitive load that can be handledeasily), that element may consist of a large number of lowerlevel, interacting elements. Those interacting elements mayfarexceedworkingmemorycapacityifeachelementhadtobeprocessed. Their incorporation in a schema means that onlyone element must be processed. If readers of this article aregiventheproblemofreversingthelettersofthelastwordofthelastsentencementally,mostwillbeabletodoso.Aschemaisavailableforthiswrittenwordalongwithlowerlevelschemasfortheindividuallettersandfurtherschemasforthesquigglesthat make up the letters. This complex set of interacting ele-ments can be manipulated in working memory because of schemasheldinlong-termmemory.Theautomationofthoseschemas so that they can be processed unconsciously furtherreducestheloadonworkingmemory.Itisbythisprocessthathuman cognitive architecture handles complex material thatappears to exceed the capacity of working memory.CLT is concerned with the instructional implications of thisinteractionbetweeninformationstructuresandcognitivearchitecture. As well as element interactivity, the manner inwhich information is presented to learners and the learningactivities required of learners can also impose a cognitiveload. When that load is unnecessary and so interferes withschema acquisition and automation, it is referred to as an
Extraneous cognitiveload is a second category of cognitive load. Many conven-tional instructional procedures impose extraneous cognitiveload because most instructional procedures were developedwithoutanyconsiderationorknowledgeofthestructureofin-formation or cognitive architecture. For example, any in-structionalprocedurethatrequireslearnerstoengageineithera search for a problem solution or a search for referents in anexplanation(i.e.,whenPartAofanexplanationreferstoPartB without clearly indicating where Part B is to be found) islikely to impose a heavy extraneous cognitive load becauseworking memory resources must be used for activities thatareirrelevanttoschemaacquisitionandautomation.Thearti-cles in this special issue are concerned with this second cate-gory of cognitive load, extraneous cognitive load, and,indeed, cognitive load theorists spend much of their time de-vising alternative instructional designs and procedures thatreduce extraneous cognitive load compared to convention-ally used procedures.Extraneouscognitiveloadisprimarilyimportantwhenin-trinsic cognitive load is high because thetwo forms of cogni-tiveloadareadditive.Ifintrinsiccognitiveloadislow,levelsof extraneous cognitive load may be less important becausetotal cognitive load may not exceed working memory capac-ity. As a consequence, instructional designs intended to re-duce cognitive load are primarily effective when elementinteractivity is high. When element interactivity is low, de-signs intended to reduce the load on working memory havelittle or no effect.Thelastformofcognitiveloadis
Like extraneous cognitive load and unlike intrin-sic cognitive load, germane cognitive load is influenced bythe instructional designer. The manner in which informationis presented to learners and the learning activities required of learners are factors relevant to levels of germane cognitiveload. Whereas extraneous cognitive load interferes withlearning, germane cognitive load enhances learning. Insteadofworkingmemoryresourcesbeingusedtoengageinsearch,for example, as occurs when dealing with extraneous cogni-tive load, germane cognitive load results in those resourcesbeing devoted to schema acquisition and automation. Notethat increases in effort or motivation can increase the cogni-tiveresourcesdevotedtoatask.Ifrelevanttoschemaacquisi-tion and automation, such an increase also constitutes anincrease in germane cognitive load.Intrinsic, extraneous, and germane cognitive loads are ad-ditiveinthat,together,thetotalloadcannotexceedthework-ing memory resources available if learning is to occur. Therelationsbetweenthethreeformsofcognitiveloadareasym-metric.Intrinsiccognitiveloadprovidesabaseloadthatisirre-ducible other than by constructing additional schemas andautomating previously acquired schemas. Any availableworking memory capacity remaining after resources havebeenallocatedtodealwithintrinsiccognitiveloadcanbeallo-cated to deal with extraneous and germane load. These canworkintandeminthat,forexample,areductioninextraneouscognitive load by using a more effective instructional designcanfreecapacityforanincreaseingermanecognitiveload.If learning is improved by an instructional design that reducesextraneous cognitive load, the improvement may have oc-curredbecausetheadditionalworkingmemorycapacityfreedbythereductioninextraneouscognitiveloadhasnowbeenal-locatedtogermanecognitiveload.Asaconsequenceoflearn-ing through schema acquisition and automation, intrinsiccognitive load is reduced. A reduction in intrinsic cognitiveloadreducestotalcognitiveload,thusfreeingworkingmem-ory capacity. The freed working memory capacity allows thelearnertousethenewlylearnedmaterialinacquiringmoread-vancedschemas.Anewcyclecommences;overmanycycles,very advanced knowledge and skills may be acquired.Such alterations in expertise also have profound instruc-tional implications that were realized in the late 1990s. Until
that time, research had focused on rather static situations inwhich novices were confronted with high-interactive materi-alsresultinginafixedlevelofintrinsiccognitiveload,whichcouldnotbealteredbyinstructionalmanipulations.Althoughit was stated theoretically, the changes in cognitive load thatoccurred as a function of increasing learner’s expertise werenot considered from an instructional perspective. Within thisstaticfocus,twoinstructionalgoalscanbecharacterized.Ini-tially, cognitive load research was aimed at the developmentof instructional techniques to reduce extraneous cognitiveload. The goal specificity, worked examples, completion,split-attention,redundancy,andmodalityeffectsarethefruitsof these research efforts. Under the assumption of a fixed in-trinsic load and working memory capacity, the successful re-duction of extraneous load naturally leads to the hypothesisthat the freed capacity could be deployed for techniques thatincrease germane cognitive load. Employing example vari-ability and prompting imagination are instructional tech-niques that have been used to substitute extraneous load withgermane load.Withthepublicationinthelate1990sofresearchonlevelsof expertise in instructional design, a second, more dynamicline of cognitive load research began to materialize. The dy-namic approach provides an opportunity for researchers toconsiderintrinsicloadasapropertyofthetask–subjectinter-action, which is open to instructional control. Typically, re-search within this line studies instructional techniques thattake into account the alterations in the cognitive load that oc-cur as learners’ levels of expertise increase to facilitate thetransition from novice to expert. The dynamic line’s mainoutcome can be summarized as the expertise reversal effect,indicatingthatinstructionaltechniquesthatareeffectivewithnovicescanlosetheireffectivenessandevenbecomeineffec-tive when used with more experienced learners.In one way or another, the articles in this special issue re-flect this theory. The first three articles are all directly con-cerned with this new, major concern of CLT: How shouldinstructional design be altered as a learner’s knowledge in-creases? Schematic information held in long-term memorywill, as just indicated, have dramatic consequences on thecharacteristics of working memory. What, in turn, are the in-structional consequences?ThearticlebyvanMerriënboer,Kirschner,andKesterad-dresses this issue by beginning with the premise that learnersshould be presented realistic tasks despite the fact that, whendealing with complex areas, realistic tasks presented to nov-ices with only limited schematic knowledge are likely to im-pose a heavy cognitive load. Van Merriënboer et al. suggesttwo forms of 
to take into account when consider-ing the alterations in cognitive load that occur with experi-ence in a domain. The intrinsic aspects of cognitive load canbereducedbythescaffoldofsimple-to-complexsequencing,whereas the extraneous aspects can be reduced by providingthe substantial scaffolding of worked examples initially, fol-lowed by completion problems and then full problems. (Asmentioned next, Renkl & Atkinson describe a related fadingprocedure.) In addition, van Merriënboer et al. indicate thatthe timing of essential information presented to students canbecriticalfromacognitiveloadperspective,withinappropri-ate timing unnecessarily increasing load. They suggest thatgeneral, overarching supportive information be presentedfirst so that learners can construct a schema to be usedthroughoutthetask,whereasspecificproceduralinformationshould be presented only at the particular point when it is re-quired. Lastly, the authors present their four-component in-structional design model that integrates the variousinstructional design principles outlined in their article.Theuseofworkedexamplesratherthansolvingtheequiv-alent problems is one of the earliest and probably the bestknown cognitive load reducing technique. Renkl andAtkinson are concerned with the role of worked exampleswhen learning to solve particular classes of problems and,specifically,howthatroleshouldchangeaslearners’levelsof expertise increase. They suggest that in the earliest stages of learning, when intrinsic cognitive load is high because fewschemas are available, learners should study instructions;during intermediate stages when schema formation has freedsome working memory capacity, they should study workedexamples and increase germane load by using self-explana-tions; in the final stages, there should be sufficient workingmemorycapacitytopermitmoreproblemsolving.RenklandAtkinsondescribethefadingtechniquetofacilitatethetransi-tion from the intermediate to final stages. Complete workedexamples are faded by successively eliminating sections of the worked example until eventually only a full problem re-mains.Theintermediate,fadedworkedexamplesarecomple-tion problems that are discussed in the van Merriënboer etal.’sarticle.Thisfadingtechniquewasfoundtobesuperiortothetraditionalprocedureofalternatingworkedexamplesandproblems.Kalyuga, Ayres, Chandler, and Sweller review researchdirectly concerned with the consequences of differing levelsof expertise on cognitive load effects. They indicate thatmanyinstructionaldesignrecommendationsproceedwithoutanexplicitreferencetolearnerknowledgelevels.Researchisreviewed demonstrating that a large number of CLT effectsthat can be used to recommend instructional designs are onlyapplicabletonovicesandcandisappearandevenreverseasafunction of increasing expertise. Kalyuga et al. provide anoverviewofthisso-calledexpertisereversaleffectbycoordi-natingandunifyingmultipleempiricalobservationsofthein-teractions between instructional techniques and levels of learnerexpertiseandshowthattheeffecthasaplausibletheo-retical explanation within a cognitive load framework.Whereas the first three articles deal with issues tradition-ally considered by cognitive load theorists, Gerjets andScheiter are concerned with procedures in which learnersrather than instructors make instructional decisions. CLTusuallyhasassumedthatinstructorsratherthannovicelearn-ersshoulddecidewhatshouldbestudiedandhowitshouldbe

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