Increasing Cognitive Capacity: Learning Science Principles that Maximize Learning

12 Jun

Learning science supports the idea of minimising student cognitive load to maximise their learning.  Part 1 in a pairing of Fall 2017 posts suggests specific strategies, while Part 2 highlights learning science research supports strategies aimed at teaching in ways that assist students in enhancing, and understanding, cognitive capacity. 

For these posts, cognitive load refers to the amount of mental effort expended in your brain’s working memory. Learners only have so much working memory available. When learning new material, what may be a simple concept for the instructor, as an expert or experienced learner, may be much more complex for the students as novice learners, whether in a new field or new to college-level learning. Thus, it is easy to overload students with too much information so that they miss some ideas or points that we think are important.

In the two section below, we recap the pair of posts, embedding hyperlinks so that readers might easily open another window to examine ideas in detail.

Part 1

The initial post, “Minimizing Cognitive Load: Maximizing Learning”, is organized around Four Key Strategies teachers can employ to adjust the cognitive load so that students can engage in learning new course material and ideas:

  • Prioritize what you want students to learn
  • Provide navigation through class
  • Provide guidance for consolidation of information
  • Collect student feedback

Most of the strategies highlighted in the post are easy to implement and can be done immediately.  

Part 2

The second “Minimizing Cognitive Load” posts focuses on Learning Science Principles, linking these to effective practice, grounding teachers in the why and what of effective practice as a springboard for thinking more specifically about one’s own courses. The post links principles and practice to four aspects of teaching:

  • Understand Working Memory
  • Provide Navigation Regularly 
  • Embed Consolidation Practices
  • Collect Student Feedback

Both posts include links to references and resources for further exploration.


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