“Cognitive Science Creates Confidence!”

Estelle Brettenny



Reflect (and research) how you, your own children, the learners in your class or your clients think, learn and acquire knowledge (or why it does not happen).  

Maybe something that you think is ‘Common Sense’ is actually Cognitive Science.

The ‘Split Attention Effect’ – Common Sense or Cognitive Science?



I have been inspired to develop my next online course.  Firsty, to support my own referrals and their parents, and secondly, to serve the wider community, including teachers and professionals in South Africa and beyond.

Having dedicated more than half of my working career (of 42 years) helping school and adult learners to develop better thinking skills, learning skills and metacognitive skills, using my ‘signature’ metacognitive intervention and REAL Learning Process, I felt confident about creating the content for my course.  But of course, I started reading and researching more, and more, and more… to critically check and monitor myself.

The whole process of researching my existing content led me deeper into Cognitive Science, that is basically research to understand learning, memory and the brain. What is interesting is that there is more research about ‘Basic’ cognitive science (that typically uses experiments in controlled conditions done by researchers) than research about ‘Applied’ cognitive science (that refers to cognitive science as applied in the classroom or in an intervention type situation to improve learning of children and young people).  This really made me think.

I also discovered that many of the smaller steps, actions plans or strategies that are part of my REAL Learning Process and intervention process, and that have been ‘common sense’ to me for more than two decades, have been researched in depth by a vast number of researchers.   It has been part of my thinking and ‘my theories’ but today everything has a ‘fancy name’ that has been coined by a researcher.

The Split Attention Effect, first identified by Tarmizi and Sweller (1988), is one example.  It implies that if you have multiple sources of visual information, such as diagrams, labels, and explanatory text, your attention is divided between them.  The same applies to multiple sources of auditory information.  This adds to cognitive load and can slow down and even ‘block’ thinking and learning.

I have encountered hundreds of practical examples of The Split Attention Effect over the past two decades in my work with children that link with what researchers have documented. A few practical examples are:

  • Diagrams with information in the side bars can split attention and lead to working memory challenges;
  • History Source Based Questions that have the sources in an Addendum and not with the actual questions;
  • Accounting exercises that must be done on one page in a book, but the transactions are on another page that you cannot view at the same time;
  • The way notes are copied – wrong way round and upside down (yes, it happens!);
  • The way children paste things in their books, e.g. questions and answers separated and not next to each other that makes learning easier.

Maybe you can read a bit more about the Split Attention Effect and see how you can use what you discover.

We can all do so much more to enhance thinking and learning in our children or clients, but we need to think deeper and wider. Finding scientific proof for what you think is ‘common sense’ is often a starting point.  It is actually very stimulating, and it creates confidence.

REAL Thinking & Learning about the ‘Cognitive Science’ of something that you think is ‘Common Sense’ will make you More Confident.

Estelle Brettenny