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Cognitive Load as Motivational Cost

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Abstract

Research on cognitive load theory (CLT) has focused primarily on identifying the mechanisms and strategies that enhance cognitive learning outcomes. However, CLT researchers have given less attention to the ways in which cognitive load may interact with the motivational and emotional aspects of learning. Motivational beliefs have typically been assumed to be merely a precursor to the cognitive process. This view provides an incomplete picture of the dynamic relationship between cognitive load and motivational beliefs. In this review, we synthesize previous scholarly efforts concerning the motivational effects of anticipated investment of mental effort, new developments in the expectancy-value theory of motivation, and recent findings implicating cognitive load in the formulation of motivational beliefs. By conceptualizing cognitive load as motivational cost, we argue that motivational beliefs are an important outcome that result from instruction. We examine recent empirical evidence supporting this proposition and consider the implications for the further development of both CLT and motivational theories through their integration.
REVIEW ARTICLE
Cognitive Load as Motivational Cost
David F. Feldon
1
&Gregory Callan
1
&Stephanie Juth
1
&Soojeong Jeong
1
Published online: 15 January 2019
#Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019
Abstract
Research on cognitive load theory (CLT) has focused primarily on identifying the mechanisms
and strategies that enhance cognitive learning outcomes. However, CLT researchers have
given less attention to the ways in which cognitive load may interact with the motivational
and emotional aspects of learning. Motivational beliefs have typically been assumed to be
merely a precursor to the cognitive process. This view provides an incomplete picture of the
dynamic relationship between cognitive load and motivational beliefs. In this review, we
synthesize previous scholarly efforts concerning the motivational effects of anticipated invest-
ment of mental effort, new developments in the expectancy-value theory of motivation, and
recent findings implicating cognitive load in the formulation of motivational beliefs. By
conceptualizing cognitive load as motivational cost, we argue that motivational beliefs are
an important outcome that results from instruction. We examine recent empirical evidence
supporting this proposition and consider the implications for the further development of both
CLT and motivational theories through their integration.
Keywords Cognitive load theory .Expectancy value cost theory .Motivation .Self-efficacy
Cognitive load theory (CLT) has evolved over the past three decades to become a major
framework for understanding the impacts of instruction and instructional materials on learners
success. However, despite broader recognition that learning functions entail the integration of
both cognitive and noncognitive processes (Plass and Kaplan 2015), most CLT research
focuses solely on the relationship between working memory demands, schema formation,
and subsequent performance without consideration of the interactions between cognitive load
and motivation or emotion during learning. Initial assumptions about motivation in CLT
research held that (1) sufficient motivation was a necessary precursor to learning and (2)
adequate motivation could be asserted by virtue of study participantsinvestment of sufficient
effort to complete and learn from presented tasks (Paas et al. 2005; van Merriënboer and
Educational Psychology Review (2019) 31:319337
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-019-09464-6
*David F. Feldon
david.feldon@usu.edu
1
Utah State University, Logan, UT, USA
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... In contrast, a learning material not optimally designed (causing higher ratings of the ECL) could be related to a lower GCL because learners are less motivated to learn and hence make less of an effort. In this vein, the cognitive load caused by the learning material can be categorized as a motivational cost (e.g., Feldon et al., 2019). To sum up, the additivity hypothesis of the CLT can probably hardly be found in reality since methodical, as well as theoretical restrictions, have to be considered. ...
... In line with our understanding of cognitive load, a higher ECL could be accompanied by a lower GCL because cognitive resources are wasted to compensate for the sub-optimal design or presentation of the learning material (Sweller et al., 2019). This connection could be also based on motivational influences suggesting that unfavorably designed learning materials could lower an individual's motivation to learn (Feldon et al., 2019). The more that learners are motivated, the more germane (or learning-relevant) resources are invested by the learner to master the task. ...
... Thus, a relatively high GCL is not necessarily associated with better learning performance. In this vein, motivational beliefs should not be neglected, but are, according to Feldon et al. (2019), a result of the instruction and could affect the GCL and related concepts such as mental effort. ...
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For more than three decades, cognitive load theory has been addressing learning from a cognitive perspective. Based on this instructional theory, design recommendations and principles have been derived to manage the load on working memory while learning. The increasing attention paid to cognitive load theory in educational science quickly culminated in the need to measure its types of cognitive load — intrinsic, extraneous, and germane cognitive load which additively contribute to the overall load. In this meta-analysis, four frequently used cognitive load questionnaires were examined concerning their reliability (internal consistency) and validity (construct validity and criterion validity). Results revealed that the internal consistency of the subjective cognitive load questionnaires can be considered satisfactory across all four questionnaires. Moreover, moderator analyses showed that reliability estimates of the cognitive load questionnaires did not differ between educational settings, domains of the instructional materials, presentation modes, or number of scale points. Correlations among the cognitive load types partially contradict theory-based assumptions, whereas correlations with learning-related variables support assumptions derived from cognitive load theory. In particular, results seem to support the three-factor model consisting of intrinsic cognitive load, extraneous cognitive load, and germane cognitive load. Results are discussed in relation to current trends in cognitive load theory and recommendations for the future use of cognitive load questionnaires in experimental research are suggested.
... Learning does not take place automatically and is transformed from the continuous drive of multiple factors such as cognition (e.g., prior knowledge, metacognitive and cognitive strategies, executive functions), motivation (e.g., enjoyment, goals, interest), cognition-based affection (e.g., growth mindset, selfconcept, self-efficacy, motivation regulation, emotion regulation) (Moreno, 2010;Plass and Kalyuga, 2019), among other individual and contextual factors. During this process, the activation of cognition and cognition-related factors is energy-consuming and leads to increased cognitive load (Boekaerts, 2017;Feldon et al., 2019;Seufert, 2018;Wirth et al., 2009;Wirth et al., 2020;Xu et al., 2021). The activation may bring about gains when the benefit outweighs the cost; otherwise, the activation may render a loss. ...
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... Mental effort is directly related to the cognitive load that the subject puts into action when processing information from any medium and technological resource (Feldon et al., 2019). And, at the same time, on the motivation that a person will have for the development of any activity (Paas et al., 2005;López-Cortés et al., 2021). ...
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... Perhaps the reason for this is that students who are exposed to suboptimal lectures can find the task of paying attention to course material more demanding from a cognitive load perspective and may experience the management of this load as a cost (Feldon et al., 2019). If this is true, then, as Feldon et al. argued, when the level of task difficulty and mental effort needed to learn exceeds learners' motivation to do so, the result may be disengagement (perhaps due to a lack of perceived value or control which is predicted by CVTAE). ...
... Mental effort is directly related to the cognitive load that the subject puts into action when processing information from any medium and technological resource (Feldon et al., 2019). And, at the same time, on the motivation that a person will have for the development of any activity (Paas et al., 2005;López-Cortés et al., 2021). ...
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... Such possibilities continue to be debated (see, e.g., [79,85,101]). Moreover, it has been suggested that cognitive load should be studied as an inluence on motivation [22] and that CLT could be revised to encompass trade-ofs between risking high extraneous load and risking low learner engagement [94]. ...
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... Mental effort is directly related to the cognitive load that the subject puts into action when processing information from any medium and technological resource (Feldon et al., 2019). And, at the same time, on the motivation that a person will have for the development of any activity (Paas et al., 2005;López-Cortés et al., 2021). ...
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... Thus, high-FOD students might need more time for analyzing collected information and executing coherent actions than low-FOD students. Moreover, FOD indicates cognitive load (Ayres, 2006); when perceived cognitive load is overwhelming, learners may exert little or no effort (Feldon et al., 2019). Due to exerting little effort, high-FOD students might engage in more off-task behaviors than low-FOD students. ...
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