Schema Acquisition and Sources of Cognitive Load (Kalyuga)

Kalyuga, S. (2010). Schema Acquisition and Sources of Cognitive Load. In J.L. Plass, R. Moreno, & R. Brünken, Cognitive Load Theory, ch. 3. New York: Cambridge.

This chapter discusses three important guidelines for designing learning environments so that they may be effective for learners possessing knowledge structures of differing complexity (i.e., varying levels of prior knowledge) in the relevant content domain. One way to investigate the effectiveness of a learning environment is to determine the amounts of intrinsic, germane, and extraneous cognitive processing it produces in the learner (which is partly determined by the learner’s prior knowledge in the relevant content domain). Intrinsic and extraneous cognitive loads should not exceed the capacity of the learner’s working memory. Overall, as Mayer (2008) writes: “The objective of multimedia design is to reduce extraneous cognitive processing, manage essential cognitive processing, and foster generative cognitive processing” (p.x).

Effective instructional procedures and techniques should be aimed at acquiring an organized schematic knowledge base and reducing any diversion of cognitive resources to tasks and activities that are not directly associated with this goal. Below are three guidelines to accomplish this:

  • The Direct Initial Instruction Principle – provide direct instructional explanations and guidance in fully worked-out examples. These serve as a substitute for the schema-based executive at the initial stages of learning by showing the learner exactly how to handle a situation or task. Problem-solving or discovery learning techniques provide the least effective executive function for novice learners.
  • The Expertise Principle – remove instructional support as learners become more proficient in a domain.
  • The Small Step-Size of Knowledge Change Principle – break down the learning sequence into manageable steps that each produce a more appropriate amount of intrinsic cognitive load.
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