Ridiculing Cognitive Load Theory

According to sources, Casper Hulshof gave a keynote speech at researchED Netherlands over the weekend in which he held cognitive load theory up to ridicule.

Ridicule is a powerful tool and I am not against its deployment. There are too many people on twitter who take offence at jokes as ‘sneering’ and I really don’t want to be among their humourless company. Moreover, humour is a powerful way to deflate the pompous and those with an undeserved sense of their own importance.

However, I would suggest that humour is most powerful when it uncovers an unspoken truth, revealed to all. Like any argument, it rests on a substantive point which cannot easily be dismissed.

I have no idea what Hulshof said about cognitive load theory. However, he is apparently writing a critical paper with Christian Bokhove in which, for some reason, they map the development of the theory over time as if that somehow matters:

Cognitive load theory is not some kind of revealed truth, it is a scientific work-in-progress. It is clearly not finished and the final state and extent of the theory has not yet been determined. I discuss some of the common criticisms of it in this thread:

Of all these, I think the issue with germane load is the most interesting. Clearly, some part of working memory has to be involved in learning – it is ‘germane’ – but the theory has not yet worked out a way of dealing with this that is unfalsifiable and therefore scientific.

Some people become quite animated about the way that cognitive load theory draws upon David Geary’s theory of evolutionary educational psychology. Again, this centres around falsifiability. However, to the extent that this is foundational to cognitive load theory, it generates predictions within the theory that can be tested.

Crucially, cognitive load theory as it stands is falsifiable, as I discuss in this thread:

Perhaps all of this is really funny. Perhaps those who research the theory, like me, are very silly people who are deluding themselves. I don’t know,

Presumably, when the Hulshof / Bokhove paper comes out they will be able to point to empirical evidence that casts doubt on the predictions of cognitive load theory. I assume that must be the basis of the ridicule. Anything less would be something of a disappointment.

Update: Erik Meester, not one of the sources mentioned above, attended the talk and has written about it in a Twitter thread:


4 thoughts on “Ridiculing Cognitive Load Theory

  1. James Katz MD says:

    Professor Irwin Corey still lives in Gary Ashman. Citcular logic with no escape. No meat on these bones. In cognitive load theory everyone is an idiot. Maybe I am too for taking the time to comment!

    • Chester Draws says:

      Please don’t post while drunk James.

      I can’t think why a critique of CLT needs a bibliometric analysis. It’s not some secret or conspiracy, that we need to expose the links. I will be very interested to see how it helps their case.

      Most of the critiques of CLT I read are as much moral as scientific — they complain that CLT leaves out the emotional aspects of the learner. Because it says nothing about motivation or emotional response to the learning.

      But as a teacher who thinks in terms of CLT, I don’t leave motivation out of my lessons. It’s just that they are separate to the design of the tasks I set my students, and I find thinking about the cognitive load I am placing on my students a good way to avoid confusing them.

  2. Pingback: ResearchEd inspireert! – Karin Blogt

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