Valerie Boyles EDPS 6431 1 December 2012 Cognitive Load Theory John Sweller developed Cognitive Load Theory

while studying problem solving. He believed humans use a means-end strategy and he knew from the works of G.A. Miller that our minds have a limited working memory capacity. Sweller’s CLT was developed after the evidence Sweller recognized from several effects. One is known as the goal-free effect. CLT encourages the use of open-ended problem solving. This means-end approach allows the learner to encounter information in a personal way and truly own the information. As a teacher, I use this approach in assessments because I feel I get a better response from my students. I am truly able to see what they have learned because they aren’t limited to guidelines during problem solving. The worked-example effect also contributed to the development of cognitive load theory. Worked examples are effective because learners who are new to concept are given a step-by-step demonstration. Worked examples are expert mental models which are used to teach complex problem-solving skills. When learners are provided content through the use of a worked example, working memory is saved. Workedexamples may not be effective for all learners, however. When learners have a large amount of prior knowledge, a worked example may be redundant. For learners who are novice to a concept, worked examples are a highly effective tool. Sweller also recognized the split-attention effect and the redundancy effect. He knew that using multiple sources took much working memory from learners. He learned that by integrating sources as thoroughly as possible, learners were able to save working memory and thus focus better. The redundancy effect taught him that unnecessary materials also take up working memory and limits the learner’s ability to acquire new knowledge.

By recognizing the evidence of these effects and others, Sweller arrived at his theory of cognitive load. Using what learned of working memory, his theory intends to assist instructional designers in presenting information in a way, which optimizes intellectual performance.

Total Cognitive Load

germane load • aids in committing information to long-term memory • construction and connection of schemas

intrinsic load • inherenct difficulty • cannot be altered)

extraneous load • materials and media used • designer controlled

The cognitive load theory recognizes three types of cognitive load. The first type of cognitive load is intrinsic. Intrinsic load is known as the inherent difficulty associated with instructional materials, such as the difficulty of solving 3 + 2 versus solving a derivative in calculus. Because of the nature of intrinsic load, the instructor is unable to alter it. Rather, instructors must compensate this difficulty through the use of schemas. The instructor has the challenge of breaking schemas into subschemas and bringing everything back together for the learner. When the concept is inherently difficult, there is little working memory left to devote to creating schemas that aid in committing information to long-term memory. The second type of load is extraneous load. Unlike intrinsic load, extraneous load is under the control of the instructional designer. Extraneous load includes the

materials, techniques, and medium used to teach a concept. Because the designer has control over extraneous load, it is suggested that designers limit extraneous load when intrinsic load is very high. If a concept is inherently difficult, designers should use materials that are very explicit and simple to allow learners’ working memory to take as much in as possible. In addition, any unnecessary information should be avoided because it takes up working memory. A teacher never wants a student to be distracted from the true objective of a lesson. Details that are not completely relevant and meaningful make it difficult for learners to make connections between their prior knowledge and the concept being taught. Along with intrinsic load and extraneous load is germane load. Germane load deals with redirecting extraneous load and using it to offset intrinsic load. It involves processing and the construction and automation of schemas. The goal of instructional designers should be to increase germane load to the point that there is little room for extraneous load. I think the cognitive load theory is one of the most basic instructional design theories I have studied. It makes sense to present information in a way that limits difficulty of a concept and truly allows the learner to devote their working memory to the acquiring of the concept. Sweller also devotes much of his theory to the development of schemas, which enables learners to move information from working memory to long-term memory.