Self-efficacy and Cognitive Load & Prior Knowledge by Keith Brennan


Both terms are connected to the meaning of self-efficacy in Albert Bandura’s work. Self-efficacy is our belief that a task is achievable by us. High self-efficacy students work harder and are less likely discouraged. Low self-efficacy work less and for shorter periods of time.

  • Cognitive load: the amount of information we can take in, process and retain. It’s a critical mechanism to explain why novice learners may have difficulty in unstructured environments.
  • Prior Knowledge: the idea that what we already know has a powerful determining effect on what we can learn, and how quickly.

Educators encourage or undermine SE in four ways:

  • physical and psychological responses: educators need reassuring students, especially novices
  • encouragement and verbal persuasion: educators need to scaffold the learning experience for students
  • vicarious experience: our capability increases when we see people we consider similar to ourselves achieve a task.
  • mastery experiences: these experiences are characterised by corrective feedback, achievability, and cognitive load that represents both a challenge, but also leaves enough space for complex learning.

The author advocates for guided instruction because modes of learning such as discovery learning/ problem-based learning/ inquiry learning/ experiential learning/ constructivism &/ connectivism despite their popularity, do not support novices enough. The focus is on novices as they are the ones who might be discouraged and withdraw in case their learning experiences requires more than they can give.

Long-term memory is the central dominant structure of human cognition. Everything we see, hear and think about is critically dependent on and influenced by our long-term memory (…) we are skillful in an area because our long-term memory contains huge amounts of information concerning the area (…) the aim of the instruction is alter long-term memory (…) any instruction recommendation that does not or cannot specify what has been changed in long-term memory, or that does not increase the efficiency with which relevant information is stored in or retrieved from long-term memory, is likely to be ineffective. (Kirschner, Sweller, Clark)



Brennan, K., 2013. In Connectivism, no one can hear you scream: a guide to understanding the mood novice, in Digital Pedagogy Lab (24th July 2013), full article available here

Kirschner, P.A., Sweller, J., Clark R.E., 2006. Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: an analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential and inquiry-based teaching, in Educational Psychologist, 4l(2), pp.75-86, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc, full paper available here

Image available here

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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s