Keynote speaker

Professor John Sweller

School of Education
University of New South Wales

Keynote abstract

Professor Sweller has observed that on re-reading it, the abstract is "clearly much too technical – the talk won't be."

In the early 1980s, Professor Sweller initiated work on the now well known cognitive load theory. One of his discoveries (with collaborators) is the worked example effect, where he found that students who learn from complete solutions to problems subsequently perform better on similar problems than students who learn by solving problems. A paper presented at last years's ICER (Gray, et al., 2007) advocated the use of worked examples to teach programming.

In a recent paper (Kirschner, Sweller and Clark, 2006), Sweller and his coauthors argued against constructivist-based approaches to instruction:

"Solving a problem requires problem-solving search and search must occur using our limited working memory. Problem-solving search is an inefficient way of altering long-term memory because its function is to find a problem solution, not alter long-term memory. … Thus, problem-solving search overburdens limited working memory and requires working memory resources to be used for activities that are unrelated to learning. As a consequence, learners can engage in problem-solving activities for extended periods and learn almost nothing …

In contrast, studying a worked example both reduces working memory load because search is reduced or eliminated and directs attention (i.e. directs working memory resources) to learning the essential relations between problem-solving moves. Students learn to recognize which moves are required for particular problems … Any instructional theory that ignores the limits of working memory … is unlikely to be effective. Recommendations advocating … [constructivist approaches] … during instruction proceed as though working memory does not exist or, if it does exist, that it has no relevant limitations when dealing with novel information …"


Gray, S., St. Clair, C., R. James, and J. Mead, 2007. Suggestions for graduated exposure to programming concepts using fading worked examples. In Proceedings of the Third International Workshop on Computing Education Research (Atlanta, Georgia, USA, September 15-16, 2007). ICER '07. ACM, New York, NY, 99-110.

Kirschner, P. A., J. Sweller, & R.E. Clark, 2006. Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2): 75-86. [Accessed June 2008]