A Cognitive Load Approach to Collaborative Learning: United Brains for Complex Tasks

Kirschner, F., Paas, F., & Kirschner, P. A. (2009). A Cognitive Load Approach to Collaborative Learning: United Brains for Complex Tasks.Educational Psychology Review21(1), 31-42. doi:10.1007/s10648-008-9095-2

“Intrinsic load provides a “base” load that is irreducible other than by constructing additional schemas and automating previously acquired schemas—in other words, by an increase in expertise or by deconstructing the task so that less elements interact (see Ayres 2006; Pollock et al. 2002).”

This is, in part, what the Toolkit is intended to achieve. The number of interactiogn elements ( achieveing requisite technical and pedagogic literacy, soucing knoweldgeable peers, communicating with those peers, interprewting online communications) is quite high for novices. Lowering that complexity is a way of lowering the intrinsic load, by both allowing people to acquire basic expertises, and by splitting up the  work of acclimatisation so that the tasks are now separate, but related, as opposed to occuring all at once. This refers to p36.

The Group as Information Processing System

“it could be argued that assigning high complexity tasks to groups of learners allows
information to be divided across a larger reservoir of cognitive capacity and might result in
more effective and efficient learning than assigning them to an individual learner” as Hsiao et all note, the reality may be more complex – quote their provisos here.

Kirschner et al also argue that task complexity is key in whetehr collaboration will facilitate leveraging group working memory for more efficient learning. With simple tasks, it seems the load involved in collaboration may outweigh the advantages, and efficiency decreases. With complex tasks, where collaboration is structured, the cog load incolved in colaborating is minimal in comparison to the task complexity, and so, collaboration may aid learning efficiency here.

Again, Hsiao et al provisos are apt to quite.

On p39, authors assert that cognitive load has a pivotal role to play in determining factor in determining whether a learning task should be collaborative or individual ( i.e. the intrinsic load) but ultimately the interplay bertween social, cognitive and motivational factors will need to be investitaed, with cognitive load as an aspect.

Hsiao et al note additional aspects of the transaction cost of collaboration specific to online engagement. The lack of face to face cues, the need to learn how to use the tools for online collaboration, and the etiquette and procedures for so doing – finding out who is knowledgeable, who isn;t and how that fits in with your context.

This seems to dovetail with the difficulties several other commentators describe in MOOCS.

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