Efficient task design

More content, less process

Hey 👋

Welcome to Feb. From now on, I’m going to occasionally weave in an old Snack from a new angle—to help consolidate and elaborate all this stuff. Here goes…

Big idea 🍉

Previously, I introduced Snacks subscribers to an old TLAC idea called 'take the shortest path'. It's a rule of thumb which suggests that when it comes to selecting or designing a task, we should opt for the option which gets students from A (where they are now) to B (where we want them to be) most directly.

Tl:dr; we should opt for the least complex task, the one with the fewest bells and whistles.

This is a powerful idea because it makes the best use of available student attention. Our students (and all humans) can only attend to so much at once, and so the less complex the task, the less attention they need to spend on the process, and the more attention they can spend on the content.

Which is important because what our students attend to is what they end up learning about.

For example, if I ask my students to create a slideshow to illustrate their understanding of plate tectonics, they are likely to spend a undue proportion of their attention on the mechanics of powerpoint.

But Peps… does taking the shortest path not strip the joy from learning?

Well, no—not really. One of the main sources of joy in school comes from success in tasks... and the chances of securing this actually go up when we make things less complex.

AND students can still derive joy from our interactions with them, and from the content itself. Finally, efficient task design also frees up teacher attention so we can better monitor learning and respond to student needs as they arise.

All in all, it’s a fairly positive move.

🎓 For more on making learning efficient, check out Cognitive load theory in practice, by CESE.


  • When we choose the least complex task design, our students have to think less about the process of learning.

  • And as a result, they can think more about the content of their learning—the stuff we want them learning about.

  • This doesn’t strip the joy from learning—rather, it increases the chances of success and allows for more responsive teaching.

Are you a teaching & learning lead? For double the updates and access to a continually updated library of all the latest and most relevant open source journal articles, talk to your school about upgrading to Snacks PRO → learn more


Peps 👊