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Cognitive load theory, developed in the 1980s by psychologist John Sweller , has become a dominant paradigm for the design of teaching materials.
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Cognitive load theory’s principal applications are in instructional design. How should a subject be taught so that students will efficiently master the patterns of knowledge it contains? Cognitive load theory favors direct instruction, quick feedback and plenty of practice.
Cognitive load isn’t just found in problem solving. Badly designed instructional materials can increase cognitive load by requiring learners to move their attention around to understand them.
Traditionally, math education has focused on having students solve problems to get good at math. Sweller and Cooper pushed back against this idea, showing that studying worked examples (problems, along with detailed solutions) is often more efficient.
Cognitive load theory separates three different demands that learning puts on our limited working memory capacity:
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