Mindstorms robots and the application of cognitive load theory in introductory programming

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Mason, R & Cooper, G 2013, 'Mindstorms robots and the application of cognitive load theory in introductory programming', Computer Science Education, vol. 23, no. 4, pp. 296-314.

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This paper reports on a series of introductory programming workshops, initially targeting female high school students, which utilised Lego Mindstorms robots. Cognitive load theory (CLT) was applied to the instructional design of the workshops, and a controlled experiment was also conducted investigating aspects of the interface. Results indicated that a truncated interface led to better learning by novice programmers as measured by test performance by participants, as well as enhanced shifts in self-efficacy and lowered perception of difficulty. There was also a transfer effect to another programming environment (Alice). It is argued that the results indicate that for novice programmers, the mere presence on-screen of additional (redundant) entities acts as a form of tacit distraction, thus impeding learning. The utility of CLT to analyse, design and deliver aspects of computer programming environments and instructional materials is discussed.