An Introduction to Cognitive Science Uk Education

By Dom Shibli FCCT

Dom is a lecturer in secondary science at the University of Hertfordshire. He is a proud founding member of the Chartered College of Teaching and contributes to the CogSciSci website. He praises the use of cognitive science in the teaching profession, but hopes that this will not be the next fad that "we tried and it did not work".

The newest silver

Cognitive science has become
ubiquitous in schools, it fills hours of INSET training and bookshelves
Ideas on Retrieval Practice, Dual Coding and Cognitive Load Theory (CLT). I think that's a good thing, but we have to
Learn from the magical silver bullets of the past that did not deliver on what
They promised and realized that it should come with a health warning.

The reason for the health warning
is that cognitive science is not yet an exact science in the same way as
Newton's laws of motion are. Cognitive scientists come from a wide circle of
Disciplines (such as psychology and neuroscience) and hypothesize how
the mind works. Often, the experiments are carried out at small, controlled intervals
Laboratory conditions and can not necessarily be replicated in far more
complex environment of the school classroom.

Retrieval practice and spatial learning

Cognitive science gives a teacher a set of principles that can be used in the classroom (see Rosenshine's principles of teaching as a good starting point). These general principles include:

  • Begin a lesson with a quick review of the previous one
  • Engage students in weekly and monthly reviews

(Rosenshine 2012)

Retrieval practice is a strategy teacher
can be used to facilitate the introduction of previously taught materials to learners and
Strengthen the retrieval and storage of this information. That could look like this
like a low-stakes quiz at the beginning of a lesson to verify the understanding of the
previous lesson. Spatial learning adds another level of complexity
Verification of the recall of material taught in the last week or last month. I really like that
because it sends the message that
Everything you are taught at school is important throughout the year

But that will be really exciting
if you are considering what to do with the data from the quiz. Instead of trying
Make it equal to a grade or grade for which the information is more appropriate
Class teachers are planning their next lesson. This is not a recognition of failure
but should be liberating for a teacher because you respond to the needs
the student and think about how you taught the lesson in the first
Place. If most of the class had to deal with ion-binding issues, such as
For example, then maybe you need to re-teach it or this information for a
recap session at a later date.

Dual coding and cognitive load theory

Dual coding and cognitive stress theory are interesting ideas that help teachers improve the quality of their teaching. The double coding is based on the ability of the mind to simultaneously process visual and auditory stimuli. It's often quite easy to follow the narrative in a movie, but when a teacher gets up in front of a class and uses images, their voice, and words on a slide, it's harder for the learner to focus on their attention and process them different stimuli. Through skillful use of images and words, a teacher can make the learning process more efficient.

Cognitive load theory is a theory that supports the goal of effective and efficient knowledge transfer between people (Sweller et al., 2019). It takes into account the characteristics of working memory, which has limited capacity, and long-term memory, which should be limitless. Only small amounts of information can always be processed in the main memory. However, the burden of working memory is reduced when a learner has prior knowledge that he or she can access from the long-term memory. Using the features of working memory, we can improve the teaching of teachers and plan learning activities that are consistent with the limited capacity of working memory. These theories are particularly relevant as there is strong evidence that the quality of teacher education has an impact on students' outcomes (Coe et al., 2014).

Returning to Rosenshine's principles of teaching, the following three points relate to how a teacher could explain new information:

  • Present new material in small steps with the student
    Practice after each step
  • Provide models
  • Provide scaffolding for difficult tasks.

(Rosenshine 2012)

All of this requires planning by the teacher. By using double-coding or one of the effects identified by cognitive load theory, the teacher can acquire presentation skills that allow learners better access to the material. Teachers often use PowerPoint, but their slides can be poorly designed so that the learner either does not know where to focus their attention or overloaded with information. Andy Tharby's excellent blog post "Using Cognitive Stress Theory to Improve Slideshow Presentations" is a good place to develop your PowerPoint skills.

Not the alpha and omega?

What the cognitive science does not do
for the teacher, help is with own expertise. You have to develop yourself
that yourself. An exercise quiz for getting low stakes can help the students reach them
Pay attention to the work you have learned before, but you must remember that you have to teach well
First and foremost, lesson activities should be designed for students to participate in
with, think and use to build your own understanding. If you are
Teach how the blood sugar level in the body or in the internal energy is controlled
and energy transfer you have to know! Where does cognitive science come from?
in helps you plan and present your lessons more effectively.


Rosenshine, B (2012) The Principles of Teaching. Research-based strategies that all teachers should know. American educator 2012 (Access date 8/9/19)

Coe, R., Aloisi, C., Higgins, S. & Major, L.M. (2014) What makes great lessons? Review of the underlying research. CEM, Durham University and The Sutton Trust (retrieved on 8/9/19)

J. Sweller, S. Tindall-Ford & S. Agostinho (2019) Advances in the theory of cognitive load (local / global problems in education). Abingdon, Oxford. Routledge

Tharby, A (2017) Using cognitive load theory to enhance slideshow presentations (retrieved on 8/9/19)

Other information

The CogSciSci site Led by a grassroots group of teachers and other educators, it provides ideas and resources for using cognitive science principles in science education.

The Oxford Revision Project website Includes links to useful blogs and articles on cognitive science, as well as related publications from us.

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