Reading Group: Using Subgoal Labels to Reduce Cognitive Load in Learning

Published: 17 September 2019

Briana Morrison visits, presenting a talk on cognitive load theory and subgoals for problems-solving processing.

DATE: 23 September 2019
TIME: 13:00-14:00
LOCATION: Sir Alwyn Williams Building, 423 Seminar Room

Cognitive load is the amount of resources utilized in an individual's working memory during learning. Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) is grounded in the human architecture of the brain, which has a limited capacity for working memory. All learning is processed in working memory before being stored in long term memory. If the total amount of processing required to learn exceeds the limited capacity of working memory, then learning is impaired. Worked examples are a type of instructional material used to teach procedural problem-solving processes by giving learners concrete examples of the procedure being used to solve a problem, showing the explicit steps in the problem-solving process. Worked examples are used to decrease the cognitive load on the user during the learning process. Using subgoals in worked examples further reduces cognitive load by illustrating the salient points in the problem solving process which can be generalized across problems.  The subgoal learning framework has been used in programming and other fields to breakdown procedural problem solving into smaller pieces that novices can grasp more easily, but it has only been used in short-term interventions. In this talk, I will discuss how the subgoal learning framework was implemented throughout a semester-long programming course to explore its longitudinal effects. Of 265 students in multiple sections of the course, about half of them received subgoal-oriented instruction while the other half received typical instruction. Learning subgoals consistently improved performance on quizzes, which were formative and given within a week of learning a new procedure, but not on exams, which were summative. While exam performance was not statistically better, the subgoal group has lower variance in exam scores and fewer students dropped or failed the course than in the control group. Learner characteristics were explored to determine how subgoal learning affected students at risk of dropout or failure.

First published: 17 September 2019