“What about the science?” Why Australia’s education policy-makers won’t be able to make major educational improvements until they embrace the Science of Learning.


One of the ironies in Australian education is that the science of how learning happens – a multi-decade, global research program in cognitive psychology – was led by an Australian researcher, Professor John Sweller.

You would think the most important research on how humans learn and which methods are most effective in the classroom would be at the front and centre of debates about education policy reform. Think again. This global heavy weight has never once been consulted by an education policy adviser or senior member of a State Department of Education. Worse, very few universities teach the body of knowledge known as the Science of Learning to the nation’s future educators. Wilful blindness? This must change.

Knowledge Society CEO, Elena Douglas, had the chance to interview Professor Sweller about human cognitive architecture, cognitive load theory and the nature of human memory. No education leader, policymaker, teacher (or parent) should miss this video.

Listen for Professor Sweller’s explanation of the two types of information and knowledge – biologically primary (speaking and listening) and biologically secondary (reading and mathematics and the rest of the curriculum) and how education policymakers by not understanding this distinction, are in a long-term endeavour to make schools more like the natural environments in which humans learn biologically primary information which renders them highly inefficient at completing the real task of schools which is to share biologically secondary information with the next generation.

Watch and learn.

You can also read Sweller’s analysis paper Some Critical Thoughts about Critical and Creative Thinking which discusses the lack of general cognitive strategies in dominating teaching methods, and how biologically secondary knowledge needs to be prioritised in order to increase student capability.

“Educators and policymakers continue to see creativity and critical thinking as a key function of schools. This paper shows why this motivation needs to reflect the evidence on how students learn, as demonstrated by our knowledge of human cognition.”

Every education leader, policymaker and teacher educator should watch this video.