Two minutes on… Cognitive Load Theory

Ever feel overwhelmed by all the educational research out there? Join me as I break down complex theories into bite-sized, classroom-ready tips to help you unlock your students’ learning potential.

Ever feel like you’re talking to a brick wall? You meticulously craft lessons, pack them with information, but your students’ eyes just glaze over. Don’t worry, it’s not just you. It’s a common struggle, and there’s actually some science behind it!

Welcome to the world of Cognitive Load Theory (CLT). This theory, developed by educational psychologist John Sweller, helps us understand how much information our students can actually process at a time. Imagine their brains as a mental inbox: too much incoming mail (information) and things start getting lost (no matter how good the search function is meant to be)!

CLT argues that our working memory, the part of the brain that handles active processing, has limited capacity. Think of it like a small whiteboard where you can only write a few things at once. When we try to present too much information, or information that’s too complex, the whiteboard gets cluttered, and learning suffers.

So, what can we do? CLT offers a teacher toolkit to help us create lessons that maximize learning and minimize overload:

  • Reduce extraneous load: Ditch the classroom clutter and unnecessary details in presentations. Focus on the core concepts you want students to grasp.
  • Chunk it down: Don’t overwhelm students with information overload. Break down complex topics into smaller, manageable pieces and build difficulty gradually.
  • Scaffolding is your friend: Provide clear instructions, step-by-step guidance, and practice exercises to support students as they build their understanding. Think of yourself as their learning sherpa, guiding them through the climb.
  • Visualise success: Use diagrams, mind maps, and other visual aids to help students process information in different ways. Pictures can be a powerful tool to engage learners and reduce cognitive strain.

By understanding CLT and applying these simple strategies, you can help your students learn more effectively and retain information for longer. Remember, it’s not about dumbing down the content, but about presenting it in a way that optimises the learning process.

Stay tuned for more bite-sized explorations of educational research coming your way!

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