Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community
There's a lot of push for cognitive load theory so it's probably important to be familiar with it. The idea is that because we can retain only a certain amount of information at a time, extraneous information should be trimmed from learning materials. Some people go so far as to suggest that cognitive load theory favours some (ie., direct instruction) modes of learning because these modes of learning do not involve extraneous tasks or concepts.

For my own part, I think cognitive load theory misrepresents how we acquire and store information. It supposes that information is atomic and symbolic, like a string of numbers. But our perceptions actually carry multiple meanings. Consider a string like 'school matters' (or 'the representative student'). This is not a single-meaning string, like a set of numbers. It embodies two separate meanings. We 'remember' only a single string. But we 'learn' two separate concepts.

Perceptual information is much more like 'school matters' than it is like a string of numbers. Any given perception has multiple meanings. The purpose of multimedia presentation is to embed multiple meanings - senses, connotations, frames of reference, background values, and more - into a single representation. The 'chimes' are not just chimes - they are telling you how you should approach this material, how you should think of it. And it's in these multiple meanings that the richness of our learning is embodied. Reduce that meaning to a simple essence, and you reduce the learner to a simpleton.

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Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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Last Updated: Jul 26, 2021 9:45 p.m.