The Goal-Free Effect

Part of the Explorations in the Learning Sciences, Instructional Systems and Performance Technologies book series (LSIS, volume 1)


The goal-free effect was the first instructional effect investigated within a ­cognitive load theory framework. Goal-free problems occur when a conventional problem with a specific goal is replaced by a problem with a non-specific goal. For example, in high school geometry, a typical problem will ask students to calculate a specific angle, such as angle ABC. In contrast, goal-free problems will not require students to specifically calculate this angle, but use a more general wording such as ‘calculate the value of as many angles as you can’. This particular wording of the problem will still allow students to calculate the targeted angle of the conventional problem (angle ABC), but students are free to calculate as many other angles as they can, and are not required to focus on one ultimate goal. Goal-free problems are ­sometimes called no-goal problems, and the goal-free effect is sometimes referred to as the goal-specificity effect. Consider an example taken from the domain of geometry. The goal-free effect occurs when students, having solved goal-free ­problems with an instruction to ‘calculate the value of as many angles as you can’ during acquisition, demonstrate superior learning outcomes to students who have solved the equivalent, conventional problems that include a goal such as ‘calculate the value of angle ABC’.


Cognitive Load Work Memory Load Cognitive Load Theory Goal Group Work Memory Resource 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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