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  • Danielle Raja

Week #1: Cognitive Load

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

This week I learned quite a bit about cognitive load and its effect on learners. Cognitive Load Theory is the idea that, in order to learn, we must process information from our working/short-term memory into our long-term memory. Our working memory is very short ~30 seconds, but we must hold information there until it is sufficiently processed to produce long-term memory, thereby resulting in learning.


I am still struggling with the concepts, but I'm going to try to organize it here:


Cognitive Load = Intrinsic Load + Extraneous Load + Germane Load


Intrinsic load is described many different ways but it all boils down to the work it takes for learners to learn. Extraneous load is the way the tasks are presented to the learner, and can be a negative influence on the learning process. Germane load is the processing of the new information by making connections to existing memories. Germane load should be maximized as much as possible for learners.




So, what does this mean and how do I become a better teacher with this information?


In order to teach, I need to focus on how we learn: enter the teaching/learning methods from Make it Stick by Mark A. McDaniel and Peter C. Brown.


Learning is a 3 part process:

  1. Encoding: new information is received and encoded into memory. Most is held in working memory and then forgotten

  2. Consolidation: working memories are linked to past knowledge and stored in long-term memory

  3. Retrieval: information is retrieved from long-term memory which reinforces the knowledge. Additional retrieval only serves to further reinforce the knowledge in a more permanent way.


**Make sure students understand that memorizing the material through repetitive reading or reviewing notes is NOT the best way to learn**

Making sure that the Rehearsal, Encoding, and Retrieval steps occur frequently in a learning session. This can be achieved through

  1. Spaced Practice: spread out retrieval sessions, as one would by having a quiz on the previous session's material at the beginning of a new class.

  2. Interleaved Practice: alternating topics rather than focusing on a topic ad nauseum. Example: discuss a case, but before students master the concept, switch to a new topic altogether.

  3. Variation: practice new retrieval practices! Flash cards are great but consider other forms of quizzing such as reflection.

These methods can contribute to long-term learning and should be encouraged.


**Learning is hard and the methods we employ to teach can make it so much harder- increasing extrinsic load**

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