“When something is too hard to do, it is not worth trying” is a cunning advice by Homer Simpson. But learning is trying (to understand…, to master…), so should learning be made easy to do? It probably would, in Springfield. A learning task can be hard to do for some, and easy for others, depending on prerequisite skill available and prior knowledge in place. Nothing new here. But would a little help to make achieving more easily really help? Say by making the learning task more: organized, schematized, contextualized, visualized..? Cognitive Load Theory (1) says it will. Its main hunch is that learners cannot capture too much in their heads. Full is full. New information will simply not be processed when too many items are to be addressed at the same time. Therefore a learning task should be presented in an orderly fashion. By default this Theory places heavy stress on the proper introduction, presentation and arrangement of instructional materials. Learners can lean back, one might think, because the burden of learning is in the materials. Blame it on the materials – Homer would have liked this (“Better them then me”).
Is it working? A study looked into this following Cognitive Load Theory by presenting a self instructional learning module on mastering spreadsheet software. Special attention was given to the design of materials to reduce work memory load by visualizing and organizing the content to be learned. It turned out that the effects on retention of what was to be learned were nil.
Of course there is nothing wrong with an emphasis on the art of design of instructional materials, on the contrary. This is excellently demonstrated in many of the modern foreign language teaching methods which make use of a whole range of design tools to introduce sturdy content (2). Learners are engaged in a multiplicity of activities; be it: rehearsing, looking up, listening, practicing, exploring. In order to grasp knowledge and attain skill activity of a learner is required. Actually a lot of it when we look at most content to be taught. It does not come easy as the adage expertise research tells us: Practice, practice, practice is what it takes (3). “Come again” would be an apt motto in a Springfield learning center. It is not only what is on the plate but how it is consumed, that makes the dish.
Chiek Pin Ong & Zaidatun Tasir (2015). Self-instructional module based on cognitive load theory: a study on information retention among trainee teachers In: Education Tech Research Dev (2015) 63:499–515
Published online: 8 May 2015, Association for Educational Communications and Technology 2015.