Support for group work from cognitive load theory

Filling the pail

Cognitive load theory provides limited support for the use of collaborative learning. If a task is sufficiently complex, it will generate a high intrinsic cognitive load that may overwhelm an individual. However, if this cognitive load can be shared between members of a group then the intrinsic cognitive load experienced by each member will be reduced. The process of sharing will introduce its own cognitive costs associated with communication between group members and so, in theory, the conditions that favour group work should be those where these ‘transaction costs‘ are smaller than the intrinsic cognitive load that they replace.

Sharing cognitive load in this way has become known in cognitive load theory as the ‘collective working memory effect’. It is relatively new and there is not yet a huge amount of experimental data that tests the idea. A couple of key studies (here and here) were…

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