Reconsidering Cognitive Load Theory

Another item has been added to the debate between cognitive load theory, direct instruction, and worked examples on one side, and inquiry learning, problem-based learning, and game-based learning on the other (which I have covered before here and here). Wolfgang Schnotz and Christian Kürschner have published an article in Educational Psychology Review entitled “A Reconsideration of Cognitive Load Theory.” I’m afraid the full text is not available without a subscription at the moment. Schnotz looks at some of the anomalies and contradictions in cognitive load theory. Is more cognitive load good or bad for learning? Well it turns out sometimes it is good (germane) and sometimes not. When to tell which from which is one source of problems with cognitive load theory. There other articles also that are problematic for cognitive load theory and for the advocation of using pre-worked out examples over inquiry-based approaches. A few that come to mind include:

  • Miller, C. S., Lehman, J. F. and Koedinger, K. R. (1999). Goals and Learning in Microworlds. Cognitive Science, 23, 305-336.
  • D. Charney, L. Reder, and G. W. Kusbit, “Goal setting and procedure selection in acquiring computer skills:
    A comparison of tutorials, problem solving and learner exploration,” Cognition and Instruction, vol. 7, no.
    4, pp. 323–342, 1990.
  • And recent work by John Black (AERA 2006, ICLS 2006), Richard Lowe, and myself (AERA 2007) that show that interactive or controllable animations and simulations, while requiring more “cognitive load,” are much more effective for learning than passive animations. Richard Lowe and Wolfgang Schnotz also have a book due out soon entitled Learning with Animation: Research Implications for Design.
Posted in learning sciences, research, simulations, theory

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