Mike Ollerton is a maths education consultant in England. He tweeted the following about Cognitive Load Theory (CLT):
This caught my eye because I am an advocate for applying CLT to classrooms and I am conducting a PhD in this area. I asked Ollerton what his criticisms were. He answered via an email which he has kindly given me permission to reproduce below:
I keep hearing about Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) in the same way I hear about ‘Mastery’ and ‘direct instruction’. What I mean by “the same way” is people talk about these constructs but don’t provide definitions or explain what the guiding principles are which informs their pedagogy for teaching. The other day, in discussion with a somewhat annoyed head of mathematics, CLT came up, being described by the HoM as something that was getting in her way of seeking to help develop hers and her colleagues approaches to teaching and learning.
Reading a brief paper/synopsis on the Teamthought.com I offer four extracts which, I shall seek to deconstruct [I think this is intended to be teachthought.com – Ed].
1. “Problem-solving takes up crucial ‘bandwidth’ reducing what’s left to ‘learn new things’.”
This appears to presuppose that problem-solving cannot be used in order to learn new things. For example I use problem-solving approaches to help learners to develop knowledge of many concepts and connections such as relationships between fractions and decimals, to derive Pythagoras’ theorem, to derive trigonometric functions, to derive the product rule for differentiation and to explore place value which, in turn, can lead to students engagement with quadratics and cubics.
2. “Explicit instruction involves teachers clearly showing what to do and how to do it rather than having students discover or construct information for themselves…”
This is sounding like another tool for an unhelpful, time wasting debate about ‘traditional’ v ‘progressive’ approaches to teaching and learning. So I am certainly not going to waste my time commentating on this, because there are certainly times when I am going to “tell” my students things, such as conventions about plotting co-ordinates and the order of carrying out combinations of functions. However, this would not prevent me first of all getting students to see what happens when they accidentally-on-purpose plot the co-ordinates of a polygon the other way round, i.e. as (y, x). Likewise to explore the difference between fog(x) and gof(x).
3. “In which case, the brain is free to ‘learn’ the specified objective.”
Again this appears to presuppose that all teachers specify the learning objective. I for one never have done nor never will do. This is because I place great store on the value of intrigue and surprise and because I want to base my students’ learning upon what I consider to be a strong driving force which is are common human characteristics of curiosity and inquisitiveness.
4. …education should be looked at with fresh and honest eyes on how the brain works…”
This makes me despair. Not only do teachers have a myriad of tasks to do beyond being in the classroom they also have to become amateur psychologists, sociologists, referees and now need to add neurologist to their list.