Applying cognitive load theory to the redesign of a conventional database systems course

Document Type


Publication details

Mason, R, Seton, C & Cooper, G 2016, 'Applying cognitive load theory to the redesign of a conventional database systems course', Computer Science Education, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 68-87.

Published version available from:


Peer Reviewed



Cognitive load theory (CLT) was used to redesign a Database Systems course for Information Technology students. The redesign was intended to address poor student performance and low satisfaction, and to provide a more relevant foundation in database design and use for subsequent studies and industry. The original course followed the conventional structure for a database course, covering database design first, then database development. Analysis showed the conventional course content was appropriate but the instructional materials used were too complex, especially for novice students. The redesign of instructional materials applied CLT to remove split attention and redundancy effects, to provide suitable worked examples and sub-goals, and included an extensive re-sequencing of content. The approach was primarily directed towards mid- to lower performing students and results showed a significant improvement for this cohort with the exam failure rate reducing by 34% after the redesign on identical final exams. Student satisfaction also increased and feedback from subsequent study was very positive. The application of CLT to the design of instructional materials is discussed for delivery of technical courses.

Find in your library