Educational Psychology Review

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 43–54 | Cite as

The Scientific Value of Cognitive Load Theory: A Research Agenda Based on the Structuralist View of Theories

  • Peter GerjetsEmail author
  • Katharina Scheiter
  • Gabriele Cierniak
Reflections on the Field


In this paper, two methodological perspectives are used to elaborate on the value of cognitive load theory (CLT) as a scientific theory. According to the more traditional critical rationalism of Karl Popper, CLT cannot be considered a scientific theory because some of its fundamental assumptions cannot be tested empirically and are thus not falsifiable. According to the structuralist view of theories introduced by Joseph D. Sneed, a theory may be considered scientific even if it comprises nontestable fundamental assumptions. Rather, the scientific value of a theory results from the holistic empirical content of the overall theory net built around fundamental assumptions and from the successful applications of this theory net to explain and predict empirical findings. This latter view is helpful to explicate some implicit methodological assumptions of CLT research and to avoid the potential circularity of CLT’s fundamental assumptions. Additionally, the structuralist view of theories can be directly used to derive a research agenda for the future development of CLT.


Critical rationalism Structuralist view of theories Theory validation Fallibility Cognitive load measurement Cognitive load theory 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Gerjets
    • 1
    Email author
  • Katharina Scheiter
    • 2
  • Gabriele Cierniak
    • 3
  1. 1.Knowledge Media Research CenterTuebingenGermany
  2. 2.University of TuebingenTuebingenGermany
  3. 3.Knowledge Media Research CenterTuebingenGermany

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