Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) is an instructional design theory that focuses on understanding how the human brain processes and stores information. It aims to improve learning outcomes by reducing the amount of cognitive load placed on learners’ working memory, allowing them to learn more effectively. CLT is based on the model of human information processing, which describes memory as having three main parts: working memory, long-term memory, and schemas.
Working memory refers to the limited cognitive resources that individuals use to temporarily hold and manipulate information. It is commonly understood as the cognitive load on working memory, which can impact learning outcomes. Cognitive load can be divided into three types:
1. Intrinsic Load: This refers to the inherent complexity of the subject matter being learned. Subjects that are more complex, such as advanced mathematics or scientific theories, require a higher intrinsic load. Reducing intrinsic load can be challenging, but instructional designers can simplify materials or provide appropriate scaffolding to help learners manage it effectively.
2. Extraneous Load: This refers to the additional cognitive load imposed by irrelevant or unnecessary elements in the learning environment. For example, poorly designed slides or excessive multimedia can distract learners and increase extraneous load. Instructional designers can minimize extraneous load by creating clear and concise materials that focus on the core content.
3. Germane Load: This refers to the cognitive load that is necessary for meaningful learning and the construction of schemas in long-term memory. Germane load encourages deeper processing and better retention of information. It is important for instructional designers to create opportunities for learners to engage in active processing, reflection, and problem-solving to increase germane load.
By understanding these different types of cognitive load, instructional designers can optimize learning materials to reduce extraneous load and enhance germane load. This can be achieved through various strategies, such as:
1. Segmenting: Breaking down complex information into smaller, manageable chunks or steps to reduce intrinsic load. This allows learners to focus on one piece of information at a time, making the learning process more manageable.
2. Reducing Redundancy: Eliminating unnecessary repetition or redundancy in learning materials. This helps minimize extraneous load and ensures that learners can focus on the essential content.
3. Providing Scaffolding: Offering support and guidance to learners, especially when dealing with new or complex concepts. Scaffolding helps reduce intrinsic load by providing additional resources or step-by-step instructions to assist learners until they can independently handle the task.
4. Promoting Active Learning: Encouraging learners to actively engage with the learning materials through activities such as discussions, problem-solving, or hands-on experiments. Active learning promotes germane load by creating opportunities for learners to relate new information to their existing knowledge and construct meaningful schemas.
5. Using Multimedia: Leveraging multimedia elements, such as visuals, videos, or animations, to enhance understanding and engagement. However, instructional designers should be mindful of not overwhelming learners with excessive or irrelevant multimedia, as this can increase extraneous load.
Cognitive Load Theory emphasizes the importance of matching instructional design to the limitations and capabilities of the human cognitive system. By incorporating strategies to reduce extraneous load and increase germane load, instructional designers can optimize learning experiences and improve knowledge retention.