John Sweller, “Cognitive Load Theory, Learning Difficulty, and Instructional Design”

In this article Sweller argues that, “when considering intellectual activities, schema acquisition and automation are the primary mechanisms of learning” (p. 295). He describes “schema” as “a cognitive construct that organizes the elements of information according to the manner with which they will be dealt” (p. 296) and cognitive load theory as suggesting that “instructional techniques that require students to engage in activities that are not directed at schema acquisition and automation, frequently assume a processing capacity greater than our limits and so are likely to be defective [sic]” (p. 299). Sweller considers—total—cognitive load to be “an amalgam of at least two quite separate factors: extraneous cognitive load which is artificial because it is imposed by instructional methods and intrinsic cognitive load over which instructors have no control [sic]” (p. 307). Throughout the course of this article, Sweller presents various arguments for the reduction or elimination of extraneous cognitive load and various ways that educators (instructional designers and teachers) can reduce or eliminate this extraneous load. Only under certain circumstances, does he see such a reduction or elimination as necessary, however, as “extraneous cognitive load that interferes with learning only is a problem under conditions of high cognitive load caused by high element interactivity. Under conditions of low element interactivity, re-designing instruction to reduce extraneous cognitive load may have no appreciable consequences” (p. 295).


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