Cognitive Load Theory vs. Information Processing Theory by Mike Barton

Learning Theory Descriptions
According to Cognitive Load Theory, the limitations of working memory in the learning of new tasks together with its ability to cooperate with an unlimited long-term memory for familiar tasks enable human beings to deal effectively with complex problems and acquire highly complex knowledge and skills.

George A. Miller proposed in his Information Processing Theory, that humans can only retain seven, plus or minus two, important pieces of information. Miller showed through chunking helps the mind recall meaningful information.

Why We Use These Theories
Instructors use this Cognitive Load Theory to understand our learners’ minds. There are two types of memory presented in Cognitive Load Theory 1. Working memory (short term) and 2. Long-term memory. The working memory is incapable of storing large amounts of information in the brain. This theory states that the working memory is only capable of storing three to five meaningful items. When a large amount of new information is introduced the brain becomes confused due to a limited amount of neurons needed to interpret all the patterns. When schemas or chunks of elements are developed, this information is processed in the long term memory making new knowledge less confusing. Schemas are developed and presented by the instructor by using hands-on learning and repetitive behaviors. The working memory will then filter this schema into long-term memory, thus creating an unlabored cognitive load. Sweller (2005) contends that the human has three types of cognitive loads. When schemas are developed, they function through our Germane cognitive load. The intrinsic cognitive load is low-level, simple tasks to remember. Finally, extraneous cognitive load is an overload of information that either needs to be sorted to Germane through schema or passed to intrinsic. Extraneous information is the result of poor instructional design.

Instructors use Information Processing Theory to teach learners how to chunk information. People that learn to chunk information into meaningful groups are able to process more information. Miller (1956) teaches us to increase the accuracy of our memory by chunking, “…we must recognize the importance of grouping or organizing the input sequence into units or chunks. Since the memory is a fixed number of chunks, we can increase the number of bits of information that it contains simply by building larger and larger chunks, each chunk containing more information than before." Miller (1956)states that using this process breaks the "information bottleneck."

Example of its Application
The Cognitive Load Theory is especially appropriate for competency-based curriculum. Besides education, the health-care field finds Cognitive Load Theory important in serving their patients.

Instructors teach students how to chunk information they’ve read into manageable bits of information. They might also use chunking to teach kids how to group important world events.

Comparison and Contrast of the Two Learning Theories
Cognitive Load Theory by John Sweller used George A. Miller’s research on Information Processing when developing his concept. Much of these theories are quite similar. Both theories include thoughts on short and long-term memory. Both theories agree that you must pass information from the short-term memory to the long-term using such devices as schemas or chunking. The differences would be the terminology in schemas versus chunking and slight argument in how many pieces of information that our minds can hold.

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