Cognitive load theory – the theory of how the human brain learns and stores knowledge – is supported by a number of randomised controlled trials and has significant implications for teaching practice. A report from the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation in New South Wales, Australia, examines the existing research on cognitive load theory and what it looks like in practice. The first part of the report explains how human brains learn according to cognitive load theory, and outlines the evidence base for the theory. The second part examines the implication of cognitive load theory for teaching practice and describes some recommendations that are directly transferable to the classroom. These include:
- Worked example effect– pupils are shown a problem that has already been solved (a “worked example”), with every step fully explained and clearly shown. Pupils who are taught using lots of worked examples learn more quickly than pupils who are asked to solve the problems themselves.
- Modality effect– evidence suggests that working memory can be sub-divided into auditory and visual streams, so presenting information using both these methods of communication can increase working memory capacity – for example, when using a diagram and text to explain something, the written text can be communicated in spoken form.
The full report also discussed implications of other effects such as “the redundancy effect” and “the split attention effect”. The authors suggested these evidence-backed recommendations could benefit educational practice, especially for teaching novice learners in ‘technical’ subjects like mathematics, science and technology.