Revisiting cognitive load theory: second thoughts and unaddressed questions

Keywords: Cognitive load theory, definitions, self-reports, retrieval practice, productive failure


In cognitive load theory (CLT), learning is the development of cognitive schemas in a long-term memory with no known limits and can happen only if our limited working memory can process new information presented and the amount of information that does not contribute to learning is low. According to this theory, learning is optimal when instructional support is decreased going from worked examples via completion problem to autonomous problem solving and learners do not benefit from practicing retrieval with complex content. However, studies on productive failure and retrieval practice have provided clear evidence against these two guidelines. In this article, issues with CLT and research inspired by this theory, which remain largely ignored among cognitive load theorists but have likely contributed to these contradictory findings, are discussed. This article concludes that these issues should make us question the usefulness of CLT in health science education, medical education and other complex domains, and presents recommendations for both educational practice and future research on the matter.


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How to Cite
Leppink, J. (2020). Revisiting cognitive load theory: second thoughts and unaddressed questions. Scientia Medica, 30(1), e36918.
Education in Health Sciences