Reducing Goal-Specificity For Reducing Cognitive Load and Re-directing Attention to Schema Acquisition / Speedier Acquisition of Ability to Solve Relevant Problem

Statement of the recommendation in everyday language:

As an alternative to conventional procedures of teaching, primarily those which are based around providing a problem and teaching a means to answering it, instructional design can also be based off of using problems that the student doesn’t have to specifically “solve.” This technique can reduce the chances of overloading the student mentally and transfer the students attention to different elements of the problem. Such elements are more intertwined with the nature and essence of the problems at hand, which can lead to an alternative and sometimes altogether easier route for the student’s acquisition of relative schema, which can then be utilized as a means of perceiving and better understanding other related problems. A schema is simply defined as “
a representation of a plan or theory in the form of an outline or model.”

cognitive load

A statement of the recommendation in the technical language of cognitive psychology:

Presenting problems with a reduction in goal-specificity or goal-free problems, even, can help a student understand the underlying concepts embedded in problems and further facilitate learning. Firstly, reducing the specificity of goals or abolishing them altogether has been shown to reduce the presence of a heavy cognitive load accompanied by the use of means-ends strategies and their subsequent mis-allocation of attentional weight. The forced innovative re-interpretation of working with goal-free problems also seems to re-direct that mis-allocated attention to an even more essential aspect of learning, encouraging students to focus primarily on particular aspects of problems that are essential elements when it comes to the acquisition of corresponding schemas. A more rapid schema acquisition also results in an enhanced development of mastering problem-solving in relevant domains.

Justification of the recommendation citing cognitive theories and studies (referencing at least 3 supporting studies for each recommendation):

Since no sub-goals, only goals, the number of the elements simultaneously in WM is limited. Learners make less errors during goal-free problem solving due to the minimized element interactivity.”

“Cognitive Load Theory: Goal Free Scenarios.” Vinny Nasso Jessica Strahl.

Sweller, Mawer, and Ward (1983) presented problem solvers with simple physics or geometry problems which had been modified in order to eliminate the conventional, specific goal. This was done by replacing a conventional goal such as “What is the racing car’s acceleration” by the statement “Calculate the value of as many variables as you can.” It was suggested that this may be analogous to Sweller and Levine’s (1982) replacement of a specific by a nonspecific goal using maze problems. In the case of physics and geometry problems, the same theoretical rationale can be used to hypothesize that reducing goal specificity will enhance schema acquisition: A non- specific goal eliminates the possibility of using a means-ends strategy to solve the problems. The results of these experiments indicated that the development of problem-solving expertise was enhanced more rapidly using a reduced goal specificity procedure.”

Sweller, J., Mawer, R., & Ward, M. (1983). Development of expertise in mathematical problem solving. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 112, 639-661

Many experiments demonstrated repeatedly that goal-free problems facilitated learning. Sweller (1988) provided additional evidence for a reduced cognitive load associated with goal-free problems using production system models.”

Sweller, J. (1988). Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Cognitive science, 12(2), 257-285.


An example of how to apply the recommendation to study some content of interest to you. (Be specific in your description of the application and how it relates to your recommendation):

A standard geometry problem would typically ask students to “find the value for the specified angle X,” whereas a goal-free version of the same problem would ask students to “find the value of as many angles as possible.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s