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Thursday, 26 July 2007

Cognitive load theory says don't throw more details at a student than she or he can comfortably process. If you do, they won't reach long-term memory. The opportunity is lost. Nothing is learned.

Dr John Sweller's theories hit the news back in April, in the pages of The Sydney Morning Herald. On tonight's Catalyst (the ABC's weekly science program) we met some teachers who use Sweller's ideas.

Dr Arianne Rourke teaches at NSW Uni's College of Fine Arts (Sweller is also with NSW Uni). She teaches first-year design students. "[I]f they’ve never before learnt about, say, this Macintosh chair [learning is a problem]," she says. "They don’t know the characteristics that you need to identify Macintosh design works."

"According to cognitive load theory, when students are trying to process new information, it’s best to give them the answers."

According to Lucas, a year-8 student: "You just get really frustrated and you don’t know how you’re going to finish it all and you think about other subjects and you don’t know what to do."

It's good to see the ABC taking a story from the press and filling it out to the extent that we can see students complaining, hear teachers praising, and so grasp an idea that has gained currency in some parts of academia but is still (obviously) to reach the mainstream.

One thing the Herald's story did that missed the program was describe how to design a good PowerPoint presentation. The software is ubiquitous and, despite what our convenor said at last week's writers' workshop, will certainly be used. Whether purists like it or not.

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