IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Teaching theories need to recognise the uniqueness of human activity, IOE academic argues

10 April 2019

Cognitive load theory and Inquiry-based learning theory neglect the unique character of human activity, according to UCL Institute of Education (IOE) academic Professor Jan Derry.

Teacher helping student. Image: Phil Meech for UCL Institute of Education

Cognitive load theory draws on the idea that our working memory can only deal with a limited amount of new information. Inquiry-based learning theory emphasises the value of learning for oneself through discovery.

Professor Derry delivered a keynote speech at the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain annual conference on problems surrounding the two theories.

The lecture raised doubts about explanations provided to account for the statistically significant difference visible in the empirical evidence about the benefits of guided instruction over inquiry learning. Professor Derry argued that what is missing on both sides of the debate is a recognition of the distinctiveness of human activity.

She expanded, explaining that by failing to appreciate the significance of ‘norms’ and their role in the mediation of human action, people’s approach to learning and teaching are consequently impacted.

The talk argued that if guided instruction and inquiry-based learning theory are to be used in teaching, the design of curricula cannot neglect the underlying norms that guide how concepts ought to be applied.