Cognitive Architecture and Instructional Design

Sweller, J., van Merrienboer, J. G., & Paas, F. C. (1998). Cognitive Architecture and Instructional Design. Educational Psychology Review10(3), 251-296.


“Learners who have a more automated schema have more working memory capacity available”


“Novel tasks may prove to be impossible to complete until prerequisites have not only been carried pout, but  also automated”

“without automation there may be insufficient working memory capacity to even begin learning and perfgorming the new task”

This hooks up qwell with Hsiao, and Kirchner et al, and their take on the transaction cost involved in collaborative learning, as well as the sense of the the importance of prior knowledge in learning.  This ties in, also, with Ying and Yang Cognitive Processes, and the issues and problems encountered when cognitive thresholds are breached, and efficacy defaults occur.

p259 – 260 Paper makes the point that cognitive load depends on the number of elements to be processed simultaneously in working memory, and that depends on the level of element interactivity. If elements can be learned in isolation, and are not dependent on each other, interactivity, and intrinsic load is low.  Low interactivity tasks are ones where items are learned separately, and not simultaneously, and intrinsic load is low as only one item is held in working memory, and not several.


Element interactivity is subjective. That is, it can only be determnined with relation to the level of expertise a person has. Prior knowledge lowers the level of interactivity by allowing schema to be automated. Novelty increases it.

High element interactivity tasks, for example, networked learning for a novice, will tend to be high instrinsic load.


automation frees working memory for learning, and mastering the novel aspects may be a prerequisite for learning. This speaks directly to the creation of something like  a Social Media Toolkit to deliver the ability to automate schema for Digital Literacy Novices.

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