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Faculty for Biology, Chemistry and Earth Sciences

Department of Biology Education - Prof. Dr. Franz X. Bogner

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Meissner, B: Effektivität von interaktivem außerschulischem Unterricht vor dem Hintergrund der Cognitive Load -Theorie, (2011)
In demanding learning environments, students – beyond gaining knowledge – need to expend cognitive ressources for implementation of key competencies (coordination, cooperation, planning, orientation, …). Curricula and national educational standards (KMK 2005) increasingly urge to enhance these competencies. It is essential for everyday life and future careers, as well. In the present study, students faced a novel out-of-school environment, and they had to perform student-centred hands-on activities in groups: The lesson at the salt mine Berchtesgaden incorporated five descriptive, age-appropriate experiments about major attributes of salt (NaCl)1. Both out-of-school learning and interactive learning (group work, experiments) are highly demanding and cause additional (extraneous) cognitive load. Extraneous cognitive load is independent from coping with the subject itself (intrinsic cognitive load) and resulting learning proceses (germane cognitive load) (e.g. Kirschner et al. 2006, Sweller et al. 1998). Hence, out-of-school settings in particular require careful instructional design: On the one hand, it is demanding learning settings that foster key competencies, on the other hand, cognitive overload of working memory must be avoided. Cognitive load theory (Sweller et al. 1998, Sweller 2010) provided guidelines for instructional design of the lesson. Part A of the study demonstrated that the learning environment itself had only limited impact on cognitive and affective results: A comparison of the salt mine as learning environment and a neutral learning environment with no links to ‘salt’ revealed no significant differences in students’ cognitive achievement and their motivational and emotional feedback. Part B and C of the study examined the value of cognitive load theory (Sweller et al. 1998, Sweller 2010) as a guideline for instructional design of out-of-school science lessons. Student clusters on the basis of the individual effectiveness of the lesson were defined. About 50 % of the students revealed very good results, about 25 % could have done better, and about 25 % showed no satisfying outcomes. Cognitive and motivational analyses confirmed the cognitive load theory as a valuable basis for the design of demanding science learning settings. There was only one issue missing: Part B and C of the study demonstrated that most of the deficiencies could have been compensated if students had had more extended guidance, as, for example, directing questions or encouraging feedback. In the framework of cognitive load theory, suitable guidance is mentioned (van Merriёnboer et al. 2006). However, there are no specifications about assembly of suitable guidance in science education. Hence, existing approaches (van Merriёnboer et al. 2006) may be the basis for future research. Altogether, the three parts of the study show effective and efficient learning in a demanding learning environment. They confirm the value of cognitive load theory as a theory of instructional design. The study specificially points to the importance of further investigations in assembly of suitable guidance in science lessons, which often has been negelcted, up to now. This study substantially contributes to an improvement of the design of demanding learning settings, as conditions have been developed to effectively and efficiently connect individual knowledge gain with a student’s competence formation.
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