Best Practice

Cognitive Load Theory and worked examples

CPD In the classroom
Can putting yourselves in your students’ shoes help you to become a better teacher? Former maths teacher turned research manager Kiran Arora reflects on his experience of using Cognitive Load Theory and worked examples to tackle new areas of learning

Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) is becoming more and more popular in education. Suggested to be the “single most important thing for teachers to know” by British educationalist Professor Dylan Wiliam, it has also been cited by Ofsted in its most recent Education Inspection Framework (EIF).

However, despite all the literature and research available on this topic, it was not until I attempted to self-learn an unfamiliar area of mathematics that I started to fully empathise with students who have to learn new topics, and recognised the importance of the way information is presented to them.

So, what is Cognitive Load Theory? First researched by educational psychologist John Sweller, CLT is based around the idea that our “working memory” can only deal with a limited amount of information at one time and that overworking this part can cause “cognitive overload”. Sweller (1988) argues that there are three different types of cognitive load:

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