I can’t really provide reviews for these books, I haven’t read most of them yet (they are just lying in my 10 year old amazon saved items queue), but I thought I’d share the list for future reference:
Some new Books on Teaching, Learning, Education, Faculty Development
- Managing Technology in Higher Education: Strategies for Transforming Teaching and Learning – Tony Bates, check out his blog if you haven’t already:
- Taking Stock: Research on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education - a book Tony Bates mentioned in this post: why the professional development model is broken.
- See also this free e-book/pdf: Effective Practice in a Digital Age
- A Guide to Faculty Development
- See also this recent online faculty development course on developing blended learning courses:
- And I’ve seen this faculty development book recommended as well: Teaching What You Don’t Know
- Academically Adrift – I probably don’t even need to mention this one, it’s gotten so much attention, but here is a recent discussion and summary of responses/criticisms of the book.
- The Formative Assessment Action Plan: Practical Steps to More Successful Teaching and Learning – formative assessment is one of the most effective things you can do to improve the effectiveness of teaching and learning environments (see also work by Paul Black).
- See also this current discussion of challenges to formative assessment
- Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology – new edition (3rd) of this standard instructional design textbook
- Informed Design of Educational Technologies in Higher Education: Enhanced Learning and Teaching
- The Systems Thinking Playbook: Exercises to Stretch and Build Learning and Systems Thinking Capabilities
- Education and Technology: Key Issues and Debates
- Deconstructing Digital Natives: Young People, Technology, and the New Literacies - see also this recent post on net gen skeptic with more on how the digital natives / digital immigrants distinction is dead (or at least dying).
- The Challenge of Rethinking History Education: On Practices, Theories, and Policy
- The National Academies Press (which recently made all their books available in pdf form for free, including the How People Learn book and Engineering in K-12 Education), recently released some new education books:
- Learning Science Through Computer Games and Simulations - See also this just published journal article: The Learning Effects of Computer Simulations in Science Education
- Successful K-12 STEM Education:Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics
- A Framework for K-12 Science Education
- Single-Case Design (pdf) – how to do research with a single class, from the Department of Education What Works group
Some of these aren’t out just yet
- HTML5 Canvas
- Core HTML5: Volume 1: Canvas
- Learning HTML5 Game Programming: A Hands-on Guide to Building Online Games Using Canvas, SVG, and WebGL
- HTML5 Cookbook
- Coredogs – some free online lessons/books on web development, drupal
New Books in Psychology, Technology, Design, Embodied Cognition
- Enaction: Toward a New Paradigm for Cognitive Science - see also this recent article The enactive approach: Theoretical sketches from cell to society
- The Primacy of Movement - Maxine Sheets-Johnstone
- Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average and related books such as The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us and The Age of American Unreason
- The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood – by James Gleick (author of Chaos)
- Exposing the Magic of Design: A Practitioner’s Guide to the Methods and Theory of Synthesis
- Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn
- The Third Teacher – exploring ways design can transform teaching
Here are some web sites for courses I’m currently teaching or recently taught:
- Distance Education Tools -
- This site now has dozens of links of various tools and technologies you can use with online and blended learning
- Multimedia Development with HTML5 -
- As I posted earlier, HTML5 is emerging as an alternative to flash and java
- Instructional Design Projects –
- We learn how to use a learning management system (moodle) and about “post-modern” instructional design techniques, such as constructivism, problem-based learning, simulations, games, cases…
- Internet Development:
- I’ll be teaching web development with the Drupal content management system again next summer. I hope to improve the videos.
At the AECT conference last week I gave a workshop on using Drupal to create web applications – here’s a Drupal Cheat Sheet I made for it. And here are slides for a talk on embodied cognition and instructional design.
I’m giving a talk at AECT in a couple of weeks on embodied cognition and education, as well as working on some related writings (and here are slides from my previous AERA talk on the subject). One related book I recently picked up is Embodied Cognition by Lawrence Shapiro. It’s a brand new book, and I’ve seen some positive reviews of it. It’s supposed to be a balanced perspective on embodied cognition research and theory.
But I flipped to the few pages on sensorimotor contingency theory (Noe, O’Regan), and Shapiro repeatedly says that a problem for the theory is that it can’t show that a brain in a vat doesn’t have sensory experiences (the “Argument from Envatment”).
I think even a 3 year old can tell you that a brain in a vat doesn’t have sensory experiences, no more than a head of lettuce.
This is a clear case of paradigm shifts. Shapiro is trying to talk about one paradigm from the perspective of another, older one (what he asserts is “standard cognitive science”). And according to Shapiro, it is the burden of the new paradigm to “distinguish itself” from the old one and “prove” itself. Take for example his assertion that “the burden that the sensorimotor theory of perception carries is to show that the brain alone is not constitutive of perceptual experience.” He most frequently cites work by Adams and Aizawa, who wrote a book critical of embodied cognition.
That’s not how paradigm shifts work (see Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions from 1962). We shift to a new paradigm when the old one starts sounding ridiculous (brains in vats), or when the new paradigm is more useful or more parsimonious, or more consistent in its framework and so forth.
Shapiro’s book takes the traditional point of view on cognition, and of a computer-like, disembodied brain (he himself calls this “standard cognitive science”), and analyzes embodied cognition theories from that viewpoint.
He keeps using the term “knowledge”, for example, as something in the head that has nothing to do with action or physical experience or the environment. For example a fully paralyzed person is only capable of having “knowledge”, not actually “doing” anything embodied. I think paralyzed people can still try to do things (phantom limb, etc.), and they know how to do things (not to mention they can actually still do many things such as move their eyes and so forth). You can call their attempted actions a mental simulation if you like, but FMR studies show that mental simulation activates the same brain regions as the real actions.
Some recent and upcoming books that caught my eye (haven’t read them yet).
- Digital Habitats: stewarding technology for communities – They’ve made a copy of Chapter 10: Action Notebook available online. “it summarizes dozens of practical steps you can take to support your community. With checklists, tables, and questions, it takes you through the steps of stewarding technology and outlines what to keep in mind at each step.” (via Scott Leslie, EdTechPost)
- How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching - The words “Seven” and “Smart” in the title give me pause, but I’ll check it out sometime.
- Inspired College Teaching: A Career-Long Resource for Professional Growth - Maryellen Weimer has written a good deal in SOTL (scholarship of teaching and learning). See this essay Positioning Scholarly Work on Teaching and Learning (pdf) and her site/blog: Teaching Professor. They have a conference next week, too.
- Next Generation Course Redesign – By some folks at the University of North Texas.
- A Guide to Faculty Development -
- Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College – This book has gotten a lot of attention elsewhere already. I will check it out, but I’m a bit skeptical of folks who base their work on charter school results, since charter schools choose the students, which can skew the results.
- The Future of Education: Reimagining Our Schools from the Ground Up – I’ve liked Kieran Egan’s work, although this one sounds a bit weird, he imagines being 50 years in the future or so, and how education changed (sorry, I forgot even the summaries I’ve read, it was a few weeks ago). See his website and Imaginative Education Group portal for more info, too.
- The Systems Thinking Playbook: Exercises to Stretch and Build Learning and Systems Thinking Capabilities – Sounded interesting
- Using and Developing Measurement Instruments in Science Education: A Rasch Modeling Approach – Probably only interesting to those developing assessment instruments like myself.
- You are Not a Gadget – Already a good bit of coverage of this elsewhere. Has some criticisms of web 2.0, wikipedia, and the like. From a quick skim in a bookstore I found some points I agreed with, some I did not. I’ll try to look at it more in depth in the future.
- DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education – There’s already been a good bit of discussion about this book in many places. I liked the perspective this excerpt from Inside Higher Education gave on college life in the 18th century, to show that yes, we have made some progress in education
- “In a faraway colony, one in a thousand people — mostly young, rich, white men — are sent to live in isolated, rural Christian communes. Some are pious, learned, ambitious; others are unruly younger sons with no other prospects. The students spend hours every day in chapel; every few years, the entire community is seized by a several-days-long religious revival. They also get into lots of trouble. In their meager barracks they drink, gamble, and duel. They brawl, sometimes exchanging bullets, with local residents, and bother local women. Occasionally they rebel and are expelled en masse or force administrators to resign. Overseen by low-paid clergymen too deaf or infirm to control a congregation, hazed by older students, whipped for infractions of the rules, they’re treated like young boys when their contemporaries might be married with children. And, oh yes, they spend a few hours a day in rote memorization of fewer than a dozen subjects. This was the typical 18th century American college, loosely modeled on England’s Oxford and Cambridge, which date to the 13th century.”
- And finally, some upcoming or recent embodied cognition/phenomenology books: The New Science of the Mind: From Extended Mind to Embodied Phenomenology (Mark Rowlands), Embodied Minds in Action (Hanna & Maiese), and The Extended Mind (Richard Menary).
A colleague of mine, Dr. Qing Li of the University of Calgary, along with Dr. Xin Ma, just had an article published in the journal Educational Psychology Review titled A Meta-analysis of the Effects of Computer Technology on School Students’ Mathematics Learning. She found “statistically significant positive effects” which were ” greater when combined with a constructivist approach to teaching than with a traditional approach to teaching.”
I first came across Dr. Li’s work last year when she published an article in the British Journal of Educational Technology titled Instructional Design and Technology Grounded in Enactivism: A Paradigm Shift? (Word doc). She presented this past Monday at the 2010 AERA conference in a learning sciences SIG session on embodied cognition and enactivism. Her AERA paper as well as my presentation are at this site:
Dr. Li is actually more known for her work on cyber-bullying. She has several papers on that topic.
Dr. Li and I are currently putting together a chapter proposal on applications of embodied cognition and enactivism to instructional technology for the forthcoming Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology. I’m also hoping to submit a proposal on engineering education for that handbook.
By the way, the person who chaired my AERA session, Dr. Alan Amory, also just had an interesting theoretical article published in the journal Interactive Learning Environments titled Instructivist ideology: education technology embracing the past? From the abstract: “It is argued that against the background of a neo-managerial and market-driven global education system, the production and use of technology to support teaching and learning perpetuates hegemonic behaviorist values….The analyses show that education technologies are often designed to support masculine hegemonic behaviorist instruction practices. As an extension, education technology is used in the classroom as the object of instruction to support fundamentalist values rather than a tool to mediate knowledge construction.”
When I started this blog 8 years ago, it was described as ‘eclectic’. Part of that is because, like most blogs, it is a slow form of stream of conscious, blogging about stuff that interests me. But also as a researcher you look for theoretical connections between things that on the surface may look very different. One such connection that has been a focus of some of my research is the application of embodied cognition research and theory to explain various anomalies in educational research and new techniques for instruction and educational technology, as described in a recent post about an upcoming AERA symposium on embodied cognition and education I am organizing.
For example, researchers have found that attending to student gestures or using gestures while explaining concepts or procedures (for example in a math class) helps student understanding, and also having students interact with and physically manipulate models (such as acting out a story or physically manipulating a simulation) helps student reading comprehension or physics understanding.
But the first time I across this connection between embodied cognition and learning was 15 years ago when working on an undergraduate thesis about physics misconceptions (“intuitive physics”). I wrote a review of research on the area. This is actually a very broad area, so it ended up being a massive task for me to review it. Well, massive for an undergraduate.
The specific anomaly that I came across involved a test question about dropping an object from a plane. In this problem you see a diagram or animation of an airplane traveling from left to right. The airplane drops an object, say a heavy ball or box or bomb or whatever. The task is to draw or identify the “correct” path the object takes as it falls to the ground. The student is usually supposed to ignore air resistance, but that doesn’t really make much difference to student answers. See the crude diagram below:
The misconception (identified by Michael McCloskey and other researchers in the 1980s) is that a significant percentage of students think the object drops straight down. In fact it follows a path like the solid line in the diagram. It didn’t matter the form of the question, be it a diagram or animation, the misconception is still seen. The theory, or explanation, for this misconception was that this is a visual perception error or illusion based on our past visual experience. From the perspective of the airplane (imagine you are a bomber in the plane), neglecting air resistance, the object would appear to fall straight down from your perspective.
What is the anomaly in this research? In the animated form of this problem, students watch the object fall along one of these paths (both correct and incorrect) and then are asked to draw the path that the object took. In all the drawings of students with the misconception, they drew the object as falling “behind” the actual path it took. So for example, after the “correct” animation, students drew the object as falling straight down, and after the ‘straight down’ animation, some students even drew the object as falling backwards (moving to the left). The anomaly, however, is that when students were shown an animation of the object falling ahead of the plane (the red dotted path above), students drew the path correctly, with no misconception. Suddenly, they “saw” the path correctly.
You could still explain this with the visual perception theory by adding a new constraint. Perhaps objects that move ahead of another object are visually segregated from the other object and no longer perceived from the perspective of the other object. Another theory though is that in this case the object appears to “shoot out” from or be “thrown” from the plane, and not just passively dropped. This is similar to how we drop wadded up paper balls into trash cans, for example. We don’t walk by the trash can and passively drop it, calculating the relative velocity and height to get it in the trash can. We throw it in the can. We actively control it.
This research is from the 1980s, before embodied cognition became known, but there were (and are) perceptual-motor theories of perception that can perhaps better explain this and related phenomenon, such as for example the motor theory of speech perception. These theories revolve around the idea that what and how we visually (and aurally) perceive are connected to our actions and embodied capabilities and embodied experience, not just purely visual experience. For example the McGurk effect: you watch a video of a person visually speaking one thing, but the audio is of something similar but different. We tend to hear what the person is visually pronouncing with their mouth, or at least our auditory perception by what we see the person physically saying.
A second physics education example is perhaps a little more clear. This is the curved tube problem, shown below:
A ball travels through a curved tube and exits out the other end. The misconception is that some students believe the ball will continue to travel in a curvilinear path after it exits the tube. From Newtonian physics, we know the ball show travel in a straight line absent external forces. This misconception can’t be explained as a purely visual perception error. We have no visual perceptual experience or perspective that would explain this misconception. But from motor experience, we have experience controlling the motion of objects with our actions. We sometimes believe we can continue to control or influence them even after contact. Such as leaning your head or body when playing a videogame or playing pool, or there is the classic video/photo of the hitter waving his arms to make a baseball stay fair:
And indeed when participants were given another version of the curved tube in which they manually controlled the ball (or in this case, a puck), there was evidence for this. A curved path was drawn on top of a table. Participants were to push or “shoot” a puck through this path without it touching the lines. You could do this by pushing it diagonally through the curved path, but many “wound up” the puck by moving their arm and hand in a curved path before releasing the puck, with hopes it would continue curving through the path.
A third example of the role of embodiment in physics conceptions is from what was called microcomputer-based labs (MBL). This is when sensors (such as optical distance sensors) are combined with computers to allow things like pushing a car back and forth along a track, and the computer graphs its motion in real-time (position vs. time, or velocity or acceleration versus time). It turns out this is an extremely effective and fast way to help students understand how to interpret graphs of motion. Before, many students have a “graph as picture” misconception. If students are shown a graph like the one below and asked to describe what the car whose motion it describes is doing, many might say that it is a graph of a car going up and over a hill. Actually it is a graph of a car moving faster and then slowing back down to the original speed.
Research has shown that if students can physically manipulate the motion of the car and see the graph change in real-time, they learn the concepts very fast (less than 20 minutes in some studies). If however, the feedback is delayed (by as little as a few seconds) or if students watch a video of the car moving instead of actively controlling it, it becomes much less effective.
In more generally-relevant recent research on animations/videos and diagrams, people are finding that animations and videos depicting dynamic processes aren’t inherently more effective than static diagrams for learning purposes. In fact on average, diagrams have a slight edge. Part of this is because with diagrams you can take your time, explore and revisit different parts of the diagram, “mentally animate” what’s going on, and so forth. When watching a video or animation, it may go too fast for you (or too slow), you might miss or not understand part of it. However, what has been shown to be even more effective than either option (video/animation or static diagrams) are user-controllable diagrams (or animated, controllable simulations). If you let students control the movement of an object, for example, or the changing of a variable, their scores and other measures of understanding are much higher than from passive animations or static diagrams alone.
There are plenty of other examples of the role of embodiment in physics education (like understanding pulley systems), reading education, music education, math education, and other areas of science education (like biology), etc.
I’ll be giving just one talk at AERA this year, and hosting a symposium session. Both are related to the applications of embodied cognition research and enactivism to education.
- Embodied and Enactive Approaches to Instruction: Implications and Innovations. SIG-Learning Sciences. Scheduled Time: Mon, May 3 – 2:15pm – 3:45pm Building/Room: Sheraton Denver / Governor’s Square 14.
- Discussant: James Paul Gee (Arizona State University)
Chair: Douglas L Holton (Utah State University)
Participant: Dor Abrahamson (University of California – Berkeley)
Participant: Mark Howison (University of California – Berkeley)
Participant: Robert Goldstone (Indiana University)
Participant: David Landy (University of Richmond)
Participant: Qing Li (University of Calgary)
Participant: David Birchfield (Arizona State University)
Participant: Mina Catherine Johnson-Glenberg (ASU)
- The purpose of this session is to explore the implications of enactivism and embodied cognition research for educational design and research, as well as share innovative instructional techniques and learning environments inspired by research on embodiment.
- Discussant: James Paul Gee (Arizona State University)
- Constructivism + Embodied Cognition = Enactivism: Theoretical and Practical Implications for Conceptual Change. SIG-Constructivist Theory, Research, and Practice. Scheduled Time: Sat, May 1 – 2:15pm – 3:45pm, Building/Room: Sheraton Denver / Plaza Court 3.
- Part of the symposium: Theoretical and Practical Frameworks for Understanding Learning
- The objective of this paper is to explore specific theoretical and practical implications of recent research on embodied cognition and enactivism for the design of effective learning environments, especially those targeting conceptual change. The ultimate goal is to illustrate how enactivism and embodiment meet the criteria that often defines scientific progress, and thus can help progress educational research and development and constructivist theory.
There often seems to be a tension between teachers and new technologies. It helps me to step back and think about technology more broadly. Almost 20 years ago I first ran across a book by Don Ihde, philosopher of technology, that still influences my views on the topic. In the book, Technics and Praxis, first published in 1979, Ihde noticed that technologies simultaneously amplify our capabilities (like a telescope extending how far we can see) and reduce our capabilities (a telescope also restricts the field of view). Ihde refers to this amplification/reduction structure as an invariant aspect of all human-technology experience.
So you can look at anything from the point of view of how is it constraining actions and capabilities, yet also amplifying them. That sounds a lot like what we do in education all the time. We are guiding students in ways that may subtly constrain their actions in some ways, yet expand their capabilities in others. Note this is different from a ‘transmission’ view of education, delivering ‘stuff’ (knowledge) to the students, who fill up with that knowledge. Instead, students evolve through education just like athletes get better through practice and training, or like how technologies evolve us as a society. The essential part of education isn’t the content, or stuff, being delivered. As Marshall McLuhan said, “Disregard the content and concentrate upon the effect.” “McLuhan describes the ‘content’ of a medium as a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. This means that people tend to focus on the obvious, which is the content, to provide us valuable information, but in the process, we largely miss the structural changes in our affairs [actions/capabilites] that are introduced subtly, or over long periods of time.”1 What Ihde and later researchers might add is that by “concentrate upon the effect,” we are talking about the effect on actions. This is the idea of embodiment: there is no such thing as “knowledge which cannot be represented by actions.” “The content is the audience” (McLuhan).
Teaching is considered many things: a craft, an art, a science, a form of design, etc. It does involve that essential aspect of amplifying and constraining students’ experiences and abilities. Teaching can be viewed as a technology. There are other technologies which aren’t devices and are also just human practices or inventions. Language is a human invention that amplified our capabilities yet also adds new constraints. So technology does not always have to involve a “device” or “computer.” It has to involve constraining and amplifying actions and capabilities. One may argue this weakens or makes too broad the definition of technology, but it’s just one view, and most every term in education has multiple, different viewpoints or definitions.
Perhaps this point of view of looking at teaching as a form of technology would amplify certain aspects of teaching and teachers that have been ignored:
- It might focus people more on the original, complex and unique aspects of teaching that are not matched by computer technologies. The sensitivity to students’ non-verbal and emotional responses, for example, caring for students, etc. Computers are still so so far from ever replacing a real teacher, but that doesn’t mean they have no place in the classroom.
- Computers can be seen as just another technology in an already technology-rich educational experience, a gradual evolution of existing educational practices and technologies: an extension of the teacher, for example, or a replacement for the textbook, not a threat to teachers or a stark change to schooling. Teaching evolves too, with or without the aid of devices and computers. But many of the most popular “new fangled” technologies are merely gradual evolutions of the technologies and practices that have long been a part of schooling: netbooks instead of textbooks, smartboards instead of white boards or chalk boards, virtual field trips instead of or in addition to real field trips, etc.
- Ideally, teachers would be seen more as designers and engineers (as Dewey argued in 1922), and see themselves as engineers and designers (rather than victims of larger forces out of their control), and teachers would be respected more for the complexities and constraints they deal with everyday and the contributions to improving society they accomplish everyday, just like people in other fields. Teaching itself could also be viewed as something that is continually evolving and being refined:
“Herein, I reflect on Dewey’s notion of “education as engineering”. Considering the importance of the use of tools in education, I claim that education could, in one sense, be seen as an engineering science. Engineers are trained in design, especially in artifact design, and in understanding and improving complex systems. They should be trained to understand that humans are also part of the systems that they work with. Thus, approaches and knowledge from the perspective of engineering science and the philosophy of technology can contribute to the understanding and development of education.” (Bernhard, 2009)
- As Ihde argued, we tend to focus on how technologies amplify our capabilities, and ignore how they are simultaneously constraining them (although some look at only the constraints and not amplification). Focusing on both sides of the coin can give us a more balanced view of teaching and technology when considering the effects on students. Also, by focusing on the amplified/reduced actions and uses and effects of technologies rather than just the physical structure of technologies (devices or computers), we might discover better analogies and explanations for better understanding and using educational technologies. For example, Doug Johnson asked us to consider whether we’d make the same arguments for banning pencils from the classroom that we sometimes make for banning cell phones. See also the funny Adventures in Pencil Integration blog, with “one-to-one pencil to student units” and “slate-enhanced learning.”
Regardless, there is still much use and much room for evolving the discussion of our philosophies of teaching, technology, and learning in education. Philosophy of education, technology, and so forth aren’t a done deal that was settled decades or centuries ago. Theories, too, whether implicit or not, amplify certain aspects of how we view the world and constrain or hide other aspects, and they need to evolve as well.
The title of this post is meant to be a joke (not a troll). The inventor of cognitive load theory (Sweller) and others labeled problem-based learning and other constructivist and inquiry-based instructional techniques a ‘failure’ in an oft-discussed 2006 paper I posted about earlier (no joke).
Recently the journal Instructional Science published some reflections by Ton de Jong on cognitive load theory itself, identifying some conceptual and methodological problems. Roxana Moreno, who has an edited book on Cognitive Load Theory coming out next year, also published a nice summary of de Jong’s paper in the same journal. So, below is a summary of the summary, plus a few extra things.
What is cognitive load theory?
Cognitive load theory is the idea, first published by Sweller in 1988, that instructional design should focus on not overloading a learner’s mental effort when designing instruction. “Learning is hampered when working memory capacity is exceeded in a learning task” (de Jong, 2009).
The first version of cognitive load theory (1988-1998) had 2 elements, intrinsic and extraneous cognitive load. The latter is “bad” and needs to be reduced because it hurts performance, and the former is out of our control – the intrinsic difficulty of the subject matter being learned:
1. Intrinsic cognitive load – This is driven by element interactivity of the material to be learned. Memorizing something like independent commands has low/no element interactivity, whereas learning how to edit a photo in photoshop is something with high element interactivity (Paas, Renkl, Sweller, 2003). We as instructional designers can’t control the intrinsic difficulty of the subject being learned.
2. Extraneous or ineffective cognitive load – This is the unnecessary information presented during instruction, or making learners do extra work that only delays or detracts from their learning. Such as having to search for information rather than telling them where to find it. Extraneous cognitive load is sometimes just a necessary constraint (like having to turn a page in a book rather than watching a video), but where it really hurts learning is when the element interactivity and instrinsic cognitive load are already high and pushing at one’s working memory limitations. “As a consequence, instructional designs intended to reduce cognitive load are primarily effective when element interactivity is high” (Paas, Renkl, Sweller, 2003).
In 1998, Sweller published a paper that introduced a 3rd element, germane cognitive load. Because of course if you take the first two types to the extreme, it suggests that we as instructional designers should do nothing but spoon feed content to learners, and make learners exert as little mental effort as possible. Of course we know that that higher mental effort is sometimes necessary for learning, and not a bad thing at all – more like ‘hard fun’ and ‘serious play’. An example is learning how to do math calculations by hand before using a calculator or computer to do them. There are plenty of examples where higher cognitive load actually leads to much better learning, which would contradict the original cognitive load theory.
3. Germane cognitive load – This is the on-task mental ‘load’ or activity during learning. This can and should be influenced by the instructional designer. If one defines learning as schema acquisition and building, the ‘germane’ cognitive load is that which contributes to such schema acquisition, and the ‘extraneous’ cognitive load is that which does not.
Conceptual Problems with Cognitive Load Theory
1. Post-hoc explanation. As soon as I first read about germane cognitive load (good) in 1998 vs. extraneous cognitive load (bad), cognitive load theory became unfalsifiable in my opinion. You can justify any experimental result after the fact by labeling stuff that hurts performance as extraneous and the stuff that didn’t as germane. Numerous contradictions of cognitive load theory’s predictions have been found, but with germane cognitive load, they can still be explained away. de Jong does not use this term (unfalsifiable) but instead states that germane cognitive load is a post-hoc explanation with no theoretical basis: “there seems to be no grounds for asserting that processes that lead to (correct) schema acquisition will impose a higher cognitive load than learning processes that do not lead to (correct) schemas” (2009).
2. Can’t distinguish between germane and extraneous cognitive load. Related to the above – one can’t objectively and before the fact tell whether something will be germane or not. Sometimes something that induces extraneous load may also induce germane load and vice versa. The type of load is highly dependent on learner characteristics and learning objectives (Moreno, 2009).
3. Lack of clarity about the cognitive load construct itself. Moreno (2009) describes a lack of clarity about terms such as cognitive load, mental load, and mental effort. Mental load is a subjective rating or experience – it’s not ‘intrinsic’ to the material.
4. Lack of additivity. The assumption of cognitive load theory is that intrinsic, extraneous, and germane cognitive load all add up, and cannot exceed our working memory resources if learning is to occur. As in point 2 above, de Jong thinks that intrinsic cognitive load is different ontologically from the other two types, and “we cannot add apples and oranges” (Moreno, 2009), and Moreno also describes recent studies that refute the additivity hypothesis.
Methodological Problems with Cognitive Load Theory Research
1. No reliable, valid measure of cognitive load. Most people have used a one-item scale of perceived mental effort to measure cognitive load. A one item measure can’t even be analyzed for reliability and validity properly.
2. Poor external validity of lab-based studies. Moreno doesn’t touch on something in the de Jong article – the fact that most cognitive load (and multimedia learning) studies are conducted in labs that “includes participants who have no specific interest in learning the domain involved and who are also given a very short study time” (de Jong, 2009), often only a few minutes. Quite a number of findings from these studies have not held up as strongly when tested in classrooms or real-world scenarios, or have even reversed (such as the modality effect, but see this refutation and this other example of a reverse effect).
3. Ignores, or selectively ignores, other educational and cognitive research. Cognitive load theorists vehemently argue for the basis for their model in cognitive research, and yet ignore quite a huge swath of it. It accepts the information processing view of cognition (most popular in the 1980s) and Baddeley’s model of working memory from the 1970s.
So is cognitive load theory a failure or wrong? Is that important? Like I said, the question is a joke. From one perspective Newton’s laws are wrong and were superseded by Einstein’s theories, but of course Newton’s laws are still quite useful and correct enough for everyday scenarios. The more important question is whether a theory is useful, or is there a better, more useful theory.
Moreno (2009) concludes that cognitive load theory is at an impasse, and dissatisfaction with it is growing. She cites Labaree’s (1998) paper about the learning sciences having to “live with a lesser form of knowledge” than the hard sciences. Lesser because it doesn’t build on existing research, it isn’t subject to direct, reliable and valid measurements across different studies, and is more subject to bias.
I believe an area of future interest should be in exploring how post-cognitive theories may provide more useful explanations for some of the phenomena uncovered by cognitive load theory research. Kaptelinin and Nardi describe some post-cognitive theories in chapter 9 of their book Acting with Technology. Unfortunately, chapter 9 was taken down from the First Monday site for some reason. But the four theories they compare include activity theory, phenomenology, distributed cognition, and actor network theory. They (and I) lean heavily toward activity theory and (embodied) phenomenology, both of which have significant overlap. This is part of a larger phenomenon of researchers exploring post-cognitive models in education, human-computer interaction, and numerous other areas. As the very short cognitive psychology page states on Wikipedia: “The information processing approach to cognitive functioning is currently being questioned by new approaches in psychology, such as dynamical systems, and the embodiment perspective.”
- Wolfgang Schnotz also published an article identifying conceptual problems with cognitive load theory in 2007, I just didn’t have time to re-review it in depth here. Some quotes from the abstract: “Various generalizations of empirical findings become questionable because the theory allows different and contradicting possibilities to explain some empirical results” and: “reduction of cognitive load can sometimes impair learning rather than enhancing it.” Another 2005 article by Schnotz described why reduction of cognitive load can have negative results on learning.
- Moreno also wrote that cognitive load theory might be at an impasse in another article in 2006.
- Given that cognitive load theorists have at times hung some of their work on top of schema theory, evolutionary theory, ACT-R and so forth, one might be interested in the work connecting those theories with embodied cognition and/or activity theory (Vygotsky). The McVee et al. (2005) article Schema Theory Revisited made this connection in the context of reading and literacy instruction. Interestingly, Paivio, inventor of dual-coding theory which many multimedia learning theorists cite, writes a strong rejoinder against this article and all schema theory. McVee responded to that and other critiques.
- Some of the terms cognitive load and multimedia learning researchers use such as “active” and “interactive” can be a bit vague, as well as other terms such as “constructive” and “passive” learning. Chi (2009) recently proposed more operational and precise definitions of these terms in an article titled Active-Constructive-Interactive: A Conceptual Framework for Differentiating Learning Activities.
I was emailing our library about purchasing some recent books and thought I’d cc the list here, along with some other recent books our library does have but you may not be aware of.
Education, Conceptual Change, Constructivism
Creative Model Construction in Scientists and Students (Paperback)
by John J. Clement (Author)
Creating Scientific Concepts (Bradford Books) (Hardcover)
by Nancy Nersessian (Author)
Constructivist Instructional Design (C-ID) Foundations, Models, and Examples (HC) (Research in the Epistemologies of Practice: Theories That Guide Practice) – Jerry W Willis
Good and Real: Demystifying Paradoxes from Physics to Ethics (Bradford Books) (Hardcover)
by Gary L. Drescher
Optimizing Teaching and Learning: Practicing Pedagogical Research (Hardcover)
by Regan A. R. Gurung
Model Based Learning and Instruction in Science (Models and Modeling in Science Education) (Hardcover)
by John J. Clement (Editor), Mary Anne Rea-Ramirez (Editor)
Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age: Designing and Delivering E-Learning (Hardcover)
by Helen Beetham (Author), Rhona Sharpe (Author)
Digital Simulations for Improving Education: Learning Through Artificial Teaching Environments (Hardcover)
by David Gibson (Author, Editor), Youngkyun Baek (Editor)
International Handbook of Research on Conceptual Change (Educational Psychology Handbook) (Paperback)
by S. Vosniadou (Author)
Handbook of International Research in Mathematics Education (Paperback)
by English (Author)
Engineering & Technology Education
Designing Better Engineering Education Through Assessment: A Practical Resource for Faculty and Department Chairs on Using Assessment and ABET Criteria to Improve Student Learning (Paperback)
by Joni Spurlin (Editor), Sarah A. Rajala (Editor), Jerome P. Lavelle (Editor)
Defining Technological Literacy: Towards an Epistemological Framework (Hardcover)
by John R. Dakers (Editor)
Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field (Hardcover)
Embodied Cognition, Perception
Handbook of Cognitive Science: An Embodied Approach (Perspectives on Cognitive Science) (Hardcover)
by Paco Calvo (Editor), Toni Gomila (Editor)
Beyond the Brain: Embodied, Situated and Distributed Cognition (Hardcover)
by Nicolas Payette
Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness (Hardcover)
by Alva Noe (Author)
Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension (Philosophy of the Mind) (Hardcover)
by Andy Clark
Symbols and Embodiment: Debates on meaning and cognition (Hardcover)
by Manuel de Vega (Editor), Arthur Glenberg (Editor), Arthur Graesser (Editor)
Understanding Events: From Perception to Action (Oxford Series in Visual Congnition) (Hardcover)
by Thomas F. Shipley (Editor), Jeffrey M. Zacks (Editor)