Cognitive Constraints in Selected Instructional Approaches and Materials in the Philippine Public Schools



tCognitive Constraints in Selected Instructional Approaches and Materials in the Philippine Public Schools Juan Jr Espina Introduction Instructional designers now days focus on strategies on how to improve instructional methods by eliminating the barriers of learning considering that the human brain is limited in the amount of information that it can process (Miller, G. , 1956). According to Clark,R. , Nguyen, F. and Sweller, J. 2006), human cognitive load may be enhanced through eliminating extraneous cognitive load such as split-attention and redundancy effects and reinforce learning with dual-modality, imagination and cueing or signalling, fading, worked example, goal-free effects to effectively gain desirable learning outcomes. Furthermore, Cooper, G. (1998) believes that in designing quality instructional materials, the role and limitation of working memory should be given greater consideration.

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In the Philippines, there is no single empirical research which shows how cognitive overload affect students’ efficiency in learning. Various instructional supervisors, textbook evaluators and curriculum designers focused on the content, grammar and competencies rather than the effective use of the instructional materials. Although, many countries today regarded Cognitive Science as a vital discipline in dealing with learners’ mental processes, memory and solving problems ( Cooper, G. ,1998), the Philippines remains traditional in designing instructional materials and its approaches in teaching.

Therefore, this essay argues that the Philippine Public Schools’ instructional approaches and materials do not conform to Cognitive Science and therefore need to be improved. Furthermore, this essay defines the term Cognitive Load Theory and its effect to learning; discusses the efficacies of instructional materials and procedures using Cognitive Load Theory; critically discusses the causes and effects of cognitive overload to learning; describes and analyses different examples of instructional

Cognitive Load effects in the Philippines as perceived in Albor Central Elementary School; and, proposes ways towards improving instructional designs What is Cognitive Load Theory and how it affects learning? The study of Cognitive Load Theory is regarded as important to consider in designing instructions and learning materials at present. Instructional designers should look into ways how the learning materials as well as instructional approaches help students learn effectively without overloading the mental capacity of the students.

Since the brain of every human being is limited according to Miller, G. (1958), it is therefore very indispensable to all instructional designers as well as instructional supervisors to gain knowledge about Cognitive Load Theory. Clark, R. , et al. (2006), defines Cognitive Load Theory as a “universal set of learning principles that are proven to result in efficient instructional environments as a consequence of leveraging human cognitive learning processes”(p. 7). It suggests that well-designed instructional devices may enhance effective learning (Chandler, P. and Sweller, J. 1991). Moreover, Cognitive Load Theory is describes as a “ structure of learning in terms of an information processing system involving long term memory, which effectively stores all our knowledge and skills on a more-or-less permanent basis and working memory, which performs the intellectual tasks associated with consciousness” ( Sweller, J. 1988;1994; Cooper, G. , 1998, p. 1). Moreover, Sweller, J. Merrienboer, J and Paas, F. (1998), states that “working memory can be equated with consciousness”(p. 252). “Working memory is the part of human’s mind that provides consciousness.

It is the vehicle which enables human to think both logically and creatively to solve problems and to be expressive”(Cooper, G. , 1998,p. 5). It is the working memory that direct individuals’ attention to process information perceived through the sensory memory. Learning can be achieved when the information is processed and stored in the long term memory in such a way that the information, knowledge or skills learnt can be easily recalled or applied later on (Cooper, G. 1998). Cooper, G. (1998) further explains that schemas played a very important role in learning.

Schemas can help students master the new knowledge through the use of previously learnt skills or knowledge stored in the students long term memory. Like for instance, the Grade Five Science teacher want to let his/her students perform experiment on “mixture” and the skills that the teacher wanted his/her students to develop is the product after two chemicals are mixed together. If the child often works with his/her parents mixing chemicals at home he/she could use that schema in learning further knowledge in Science at school.

Furthermore, instructional designers and supervisors should consider how the new information is stored or encoded to the long term memory through a working memory. Cooper, G. (1998) argues that if the working memory cannot process the body of information to be learnt then, there will be no learning that will take place. It is therefore crucial to instructional designers and instructional supervisors to consider the mental capabilities of the learners. It is therefore argued that a “one size fits all” learning materials and teaching approaches never become effective in teaching different students inside the classrooms.

The use of instructional devices and teaching methods therefore must vary from one student to the other and the challenge of making the novice to become an expert depends on how strategic the teachers and supervisors design the materials and teaching methods in every student’s learning capabilities. Effectiveness of instructional materials and procedures using Cognitive Load Theory In the Philippine context, there are cognitive load effects that have perceived negative effect to learning. Teachers use colourful materials that attract students’ attention.

Instead of directing students to the information, the materials cause split-attention and most of the time; a repeated instruction is given as well as repeated information which causes redundancy effects. These effects cause students’ working memory to overload therefore, students has difficulty processing the information they either captured visually or heard thus leaning is affected. To effectively address the learning inefficiencies in the classrooms, fundamental principles of cognitive load theory should be considered.

There are fundamental principles of applying cognitive load theory to instructional design according to Cooper, G. (1998) in which instructional designers and instructional supervisors should consider. These are the following: (1) “excessively high levels of cognitive load may result directly from the instructional materials presented to student”(p. 15). This means that instructional designers and textbook evaluators may see to it that instructional materials are not complex in its nature and it is easily understood; (2) redesigning instructional materials to reduce the levels of extraneous cognitive load may enhance learning”(15).

Textbook evaluators in the Philippines may consider this principle because most of the instructional materials as perceived in the public schools needs to be redesigned; and (3) content areas that are most likely to demonstrate beneficial results from improved instructional design are those that deal with complex information where the elements of to-be-learnt information interact with one another therefore imposing a high level of intrinsic cognitive load”(p. 15). Instructional developer needs to revise the competencies of the curriculum because some of them are inappropriate to the age level of students.

Instructional Approaches in the Philippines To improve the classroom instructions through the use of effective methodologies and instructional materials, every institution should consider the cognitive load theory by studying the level of students’ mental capacity in processing and absorbing information in a span of time inside the classroom. Mayer, R. , Heiser, J. and Lonn, S. (2001) argue that there is a cognitive constraints in using various information in an instructional materials which results to less understanding.

In the context of public education in the Philippines where more materials are required by the school principals for each teacher every day in order to facilitate learning, it is basically a malpractice according to Mayer, et al. (2001). School principals acting as instructional supervisors in the school should therefore lighten teachers’ load of making too much instructional aids which eventually did not help learning at all. In the typical classroom teaching methodologies in the Philippines, teachers use to do preliminary activities like motivational activities not directing towards the lesson to be presented.

Chandler, P. and Sweller, J. (1991) argue that instructional materials can only facilitate learning if it directs cognitive resources to activities that are related to learning rather than activities that are elemental to students’ learning. Moreover it had been observed that teachers sometimes use more time during preliminary teaching and learning activities than the actual lesson. Chandler et. al suggest that unnecessary activities that not related to the proposed learning should be avoided in order not to overload the cognitive capacity of each students otherwise learning will fail.

However, many instructional supervisors and instructional designers believed that preliminaries should be taken first before introducing the new lesson because it will help students connect to the new lesson. On the other hand, Chandler, et al. empirical findings show that preliminary activities not essential to the new concept taught could have “deleterious effect” (p. 293) even though it is integrated to the new lesson. Therefore, in designing instructional procedures, unnecessary activities should be taken out so it will not waste students’ cognitive resources.

Furthermore, in a classroom where students are given independent learning approach, such as giving books to read for a long period of time then answering the guide questions is not effective in a cognitive load theory perspective. A research conducted by Moreno, R. and Mayer, R. (1999), auditory or verbal instruction is better than texts. However, Tabbers, H. , Martens, R. , Merrienboer, J. (2000). Tabbers, H. et al. (2002) disagree with the statement that verbal instruction is better than text.

Their experiment results showed that textual instruction demonstrate better results to students because it allow students to skip through texts and focus on what is important. In verbal instructions, students’ cognitive resources are used up with irrelevant information leading to a huge extraneous load. In most cases in the Philippine classrooms as perceived in Albor Central Elementary School, teachers usually gave verbal instructions. However, sometimes teachers are book dependent where books are distributed for students to read and answer the questions after reading them.

Whether these approaches worked or not, it is still ambiguous at this moment because there is no single research conducted in the context of Philippines public schools. However, as observed, both methodologies did not worked to primary level students. Therefore, both modalities(auditory and visual) should be used for instructions. Examples of Cognitive Load Effects: Philippine Context Various instructional procedures in the Philippine public schools are perceived to be ineffective when it comes to learning in a Cognitive Load Theory perspective.

Millions of books are reproduced every year without conducting research on its efficacies in the learning of the school children. In addition, instructional supervisors like school principals are not trained to improve instructions in a cognitive load perspective. However, school principals rely only on the result of the examination as basis for evaluating effective instructions. There is a notion that the more instructional devises the teacher use in his/her lesson the effective he/she is which is a very contradicting principle of cognitive load theory that believed that “less is more”.

Below, are examples of actual teaching demonstrations with perceived Cognitive Load effects and some suggestions on how to improve instructions in the Philippine public classrooms setting. Figure 1. In this example, the teacher demonstrates teaching reading in the Grade Six class. She uses pocket charts in unlocking difficult words and its vocabulary meaning as well as how students use those words in a sentence. However, this instructional device is perceived to be cognitively overloading the working memory of the students because of the various extraneous cognitive loads that may cause inefficiency in learning.

To mention some of the Cognitive Load effects in this example, the very dominant effect in this instructional part are the colours of pocket charts as well as the colours of the perception strips, where texts are written cause split-attention effects. Besides, too much visual materials not being used but still hanged on blackboards causes split-attention too. According to Cooper, G. (1998), the split-attention effect is caused when students need to attend both graphics and texts. In the example stated above, the colours destruct students’ attention instead of focussing on the written texts.

In addition, various uncovered perception strips in the pocket charts are not being removed which cause influenced students’ focus. Because of these inappropriate cognitive activities, instruction is described to be poorly designed. Cooper believes that the text alone can already generate sufficient learning and understanding thereby eliminating irrelevant graphics so that students can mentally process and integrate the resources of information effectively. Moreover, the example also demonstrates a redundancy effect where teacher uses repeatedly the words from the first pocket chart when she let the students use the same words in sentences.

The intentional duplication of information in the written mode may led to impairment in subsequent retention ( Jamet, E. and Bohec, O. , 2007). Figure 2. Using the mother tongue based approach in story telling is perceived to be effective. The picture shows teacher teaching Grade One Story-telling class using the Mother Tongue approach. The use of mother tongue in story telling is perceived to be effective because students have already a schema on the language as a medium of instruction.

However, the teacher presented instructional materials which have lengthy texts while telling the story causing redundancy effect. The dual modality of audio (spoken language) and visual (written texts) needs to be improved since Grade One students have limited capacity to process both modalities in their working memories. In a story telling class, teacher may not present written texts to the class because reading is not yet introduced in this level and most of the students cannot read words.

Aside from its redundancy effect, it also causes split-attention effect because the instructional material possesses both picture and written texts. The attention of the students is affected by extraneous cognitive activity where student may look at the picture at the same time destructed with unnecessary written texts. Due to the several sources of information (picture and written texts), information is difficult to understand in isolation and may be integrated mentally to achieve comprehension (Kalyuga, S. , Chandler, P. and Sweller, J, 1999).

On the other hand, the teacher may enhance learning through imagination effect. After the whole story has been told, students may imagine the whole story by chunking the whole story into segment so that it is easier for them to recall the whole story and after which students may retell the story in front of the class. According to Leahy, W. and Sweller, J. (2004), “imagining the concept may be an effective instructional technique”(p. 857). Figure 3. Mathematics word problem may be process easily using the fading effect. The picture shows a Grade Four Mathematics class using the fading effect in problem solving.

The teacher group the class into five to solve mathematical problem. The problem is written in the activity cards and distributed to each group. Group members brainstorm the word problem and through fading work solution steps, the groups ably process the word problem by steps and give the right solutions. It could be gleaned in this picture that among the eight groups who presented their answers, only two groups give the wrong answers and six groups process the problems correctly. In this case, students write their solutions in the blackboard and explain to the class how they derived their answers.

Renkl, A. , Atkinson, R. and Grobe, C. (2004) believe that “fading effect fosters learning” (p. 79). However, teachers allow students to write solutions on the board without writing the problem. The information that the students are writing will not easily be processed by the other students since they do not know the problem. This activity causes extraneous cognitive overload which result to learning deficiency. On the other hand, this could be improved by providing information about the problem, a step by step solution using an imagination effects. Figure 4.

Split-attention effect causes information difficult to process. In a Grade Three Science class, the teacher is showing a video presentation of the different groups of animals. The video itself is a very good medium to facilitate learning because it contains dual modalities like audio (narration) and visual (video animation). However, the teacher presented pictures of different kinds of animals in the blackboard and asked students to group the pictures the same as how those animals are grouped in the video. In this instance, students have difficulty to focus attention to the ideo because they need to look at the pictures at the other side at the same time for the other task. This example causes split-attention effect. Students have difficulty focusing on certain information since the activities are given at the same time. It may be better, if the video may be presented at first then for application, students may get the pictures in front and group animals according to how those animals are grouped in the video. The tasks should not overlap each other because students at that stage have limited brain capacity to process cognitive load activities. Chandler, P. and Sweller, J. 1992) suggests that split-attention effect must be considered in designing instructional materials and activities because and further argue that the traditional teaching formats are ineffective because it involves so much of extraneous activities that overloaded the cognitive capacity of the students. The activity also shows redundancy effect because there if a duplication of information given but in video and visual presentations. Kalyuga, S. , Chandler, P. and Sweller, J. (1998) use the word redundancy effect in referring to the use of any forms of multimedia that repeated presentation of information.

Kalyuga et al. (1998) further explain that the removal of redundancy effect may improve learning outcomes. Therefore, teachers should not present various activities of the same topic because students may have difficulty processing it if the activities require more cognitive resources in processing information. Figure 5. Dual modalities effect helps students process the information correctly. According to Mayer, R. and Moreno, R. (1998), learning can be better achieved if visual information is associated with auditory information.

In this picture, the teacher presented her Grade Five Physical Education lesson through the use of powerpoint presentation. Steps of the game to be played are presented in visual and at the same time discussed by the teacher simultaneously. However, there is perceived redundancy effect in this teaching approach because instruction can be given orally even without presenting it in the powerpoint. Additionally, the sounds every time the teacher clicks the cursor added to the extraneous activity of students causing cognitive overload.

Furthermore, the teacher keep on repeating the instructions verbally even before the game execution. However, it may be very interesting if the teacher may present a video of the real game played after she gives the instructions so that the students have the full grasp of ideas on how the games is actually played. In that sense, cognitive activities (instruction then video) are done one after the other which help students to process the information more effectively than doing it simultaneously.

It could be a better teaching approach to consider the students’ focus and eliminating more extraneous activities. Mousavi, S. Y. Low, R. and Sweller, J. (1995) in their research findings affirm that in presenting modalities like visual then auditory (one at a time) showed improved learning outcomes. Implications of Cognitive Load Theory to Instructional Approaches in the Philippines The Philippine public education is trying to improve its instructional competence to deliver quality educational services to all students.

However, there is no empirical study on the effectiveness of the present instructional approaches and instructional materials that are commonly used in the Philippine public schools. Moreover, public school teachers continue to apply the usual teaching approaches and instructional designs without evaluating its effectiveness in terms of cognitive load perspectives. Indeed, the Department of Education in the Philippines created a group of experts around the country to evaluate the textbooks before purchasing.

However, the textbook evaluators focus on the content not on how the information of the textbooks facilitates learning effectively. In the classroom setting, instructional supervisors are not aware on how cognitive load effects may either improve or deteriorate learning since most of the teachers and school principals in the Philippines ignore working memory limitations and even develop activities that impose heavy cognitive load. What causes cognitive overload and how to eliminate or reduce them? Instructional designers need to consider some cognitive load effects that may nfluence the efficacy of learning in designing instructional materials. Further, instructional supervisors should consider the cognitive load effects to enhance teaching and learning process. Various psychologists argues that cognitive overload causes learning inefficient, therefore, the materials and instructions must be carefully designed by eliminating extraneous cognitive overload. Moreover, Clark, R. et al. (2006) suggest six basic guidelines for managing irrelevant cognitive load. (1) Using visuals and audio narrations to exploit the working memory resources in the human brain.

Modality effect is essential in managing and developing instructional materials. Researches show that learning can be further enhanced if students does not only visualise the figures in the materials but also listened to the narration explaining what the figures all about. However, sometimes there are several components added to the materials that made students confused like adding irrelevant figures which is advised to be taken out. (2) Managing materials that help students to focus to one attention and avoid split attention. Split-attention effect may hinder learning.

Student may be disturbed if the materials contain irrelevant contents which may split students’ attentions. (3) Managing the limited working memory capacity of the students. This can be done by avoiding extraneous cognitive activities like redundancy effect that may overload students’ limited working memory capacity. (4) Providing external memory support to reduce the memory load of the students. In order not to use the internal memory of students, references, books may be used to supplement the internal knowledge of the students to avoid cognitive overload. 5) Using segmenting, sequencing, and learner pacing in imposing content gradually. It is believed that if the whole content is presented to the students, their brain cannot process the information correctly and become overloaded. Therefore, content must be given by part so that it is easily being understood before teaching the whole contents. (6) Transitioning worked examples to practice to impose mental work gradually. This means that student should not be given a practice test for instance without giving them solve the problem step by step.

This could be done in a fading effect where students may take the first step before taking the next step with mastery until the whole steps are done and the problem is solved. Conclusion In conclusion, Cognitive Load Theory is indispensable principles of learning that may help facilitate learning if instructional approaches and materials are properly designed without causing extraneous cognitive overload. To further improve learning, psychologists suggest the different cognitive load effects as techniques to eliminate extraneous cognitive overload to affect effective learning.

In the Philippines, most of the instructional materials and methodologies in teaching do not conform to cognitive load theory. Although, teachers and instructional supervisors argue that instructional materials are indispensable tools for instruction, the study on how effective those materials are for instruction is not conducted. There is no single empirical research done that shows how effective are the present instructional materials and teaching methodologies that are used in the public schools in the Philippines.

Most of the educators believed that the more instructional materials the teacher may use every day in his/her class means he/she is effective is indeed subject for meticulous investigation and research. However, since there is no empirical evidence saying that the instructional materials and the methods of teaching the Filipino teachers commonly use in the classrooms are inappropriate, it is still cannot be concluded. Further, the role of cognitive load theory may be used to enhance the instructions as well as the teaching materials in the Philippine classrooms.

Therefore instructional designers including textbook evaluators in the Philippines must consider the different cognitive load effects in designing and evaluating instructional materials. Therefore, the Department of Education in the Philippines should consider the Cognitive Load Theory in designing the curriculum in order to improve students’ learning and quality of education. The challenge lies on the hands of the instructional supervisors and teachers on designing instructional approaches and materials that conform with the cognitive load theory.

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Cognitive Principles of Multimedia Learning: The Role of Modality and Contiguity, Journal of Educational Psychology. Vo. 91,No. 2, University of California, Santa Barbara, California,pp. 358-368. Mousavi, S. Y. , Low, R. & Sweller, J. (1995). Reducing Cognitive Load by Mixing Auditory and Visual Presentation Modes, Journal of Educational Psychology. Vol. 82 (2), pp. 319-334. Renkl, A. , Atkinson, R. , and Grobe, C. (2004). How Fading Worked Solution Steps Works- A Cognitive Load Perspective, Instructional Science. Netherlands, 32: pp. 59-82. Sweller, J. (1988).

Cognitive Load During Problem Solving: Effects on Learning, Cognitive Science. 12, pp. 257-285. Sweller, J. (1994). Cognitive Load Theory, Learning Difficulty and Instructional Design, Learning and Instruction, 4, pp. 295-312. Sweller, J. , Merrienboer, J, and Paas, F. (1998). Cognitive Architecture and Instructional Design, Educational Psychology Review. Vol. 10, No. 3. Plenum, Publishing Corporation, pp. 251-292. Tabbers, H. , Martens, J. & Morrienboer, J. (2000). Multimedia Instructions and Cognitive Load Theory: Split-Attention and Modality Effects. Educational Technology Centre, University of the


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