A Problem for Cognitive Load Theory: Jan Derry and Brandom’s Inferentialism

Previously I have written a critical review post(Link: Constructivism vs Direct Instruction) on the article “Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching BY Paul A. Kirschner, John Sweller & Richard E. Clark.

I have also posted a Guy Claxton playlist in which Claxton questioned the core ideas over which the Neo-Traditionalist view(Cognitive-load, Direct instruction, Knowledge rich curriculum) is built-on. This includes fundamental assumptions about Computer analogy(+boxology), Evidence(evidence in health Vs education), False binaries, Contextually divorced ideas, etc.

This post is about a 2020 article titled “A Problem for Cognitive Load Theory—the Distinctively Human Life-form”, by Professor Jan Derry of UCL. She used Philosopher Robert Brandom’s Inferentialism to directly question the representationalist world view presented by Cognitive load theory, and to some extent Constructivist thinking. “She challenges the presuppositions involved not only in arguments for guided instruction by those supporting cognitive load theory, but also in opposed pedagogic approaches involving discovery and inquiry learning”. According to her, Both approaches are in danger of presupposing what C.B. Macpherson criticised as ‘possessive individualism’—i.e. capacities, beliefs and desires viewed as possessions of an individual. As a result, they fail to pay attention to mediation and normativity, both of which are distinctive aspects of human action.

In the Cognitive view, mind is distinct from world, and representations depict states of affairs; in the Inferential view, mind and world are not separated, and inferential connections, arising through human activity, constitute representations in the first place. Thus the role of representations has gone down one level. She adds, “the forging of the connection between word and object involves reversing the conceptual framework of much conventional pedagogical practice and placing the emphasis on bringing the learner into the inferential relations that constitute a concept prior to its acquisition.”

My comments

This is an amazing perspective to have. Since I am in a quest to explore the maximum of diversities of ideas in education and learning, what I really like to further explore is–How does inferentialism fit with ecological and enactive perspectives, which also may stress the need to have a purpose, intention, and meaning, etc.

Video: Knowledge in education: Why philosophy matters

(Jan Derry talks about the core themes mentioned in the paper)

One key experiment noted in the paper

One of the highlights of the article is the example of an experiment conducted by Martin Hughes and Margaret Donaldson, in order to put the original findings of Piaget and Inhelder’s mountain task experiment (Piaget and Inhelder, 1967) to the test(Donaldson, 1978).

It demonstrated the importance of the purposes and intentions behind human action, which very much relates to inferential thinking than just a representation of one mental item to another in the brain.

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