The Goldilocks Principle & Workload

Updated: May 31

What is the Goldilocks Principle? And, why is it important to educators? The Goldilocks Principle is known globally and across industries as the “just right” concept. The origin stems from the fairy tale of the three bears and the tasting of the bowls of porridge of which one was too hot, one was too cold, and one was “just right.” In the literature it is also referenced as the “sweet spot” or “just enough.”

For educators, the Goldilocks Principle provides a strong framework for instructional design and teaching. It is particularly important when teaching online or pivoting across learning formats from face-to-face to emergency remote or hybrid. The challenge is knowing how much is too much, too little or just right.

A course that is front loaded with too much content in the first few weeks can result in early attrition. Complex activities or assignments that are not scaffolded or unclear can affect cognitive load. According to Sweller et al. (2019), “If cognitive load becomes too high, it hampers learning and transfer” (p. 261). Too little content can lead to demotivation, boredom, disengagement, and affect academic progress. McTighe and Willis (2019) state students are likely to persist when learners are engaged at achievable levels of challenge and believe they can meet stated goals.

The Goldilocks Principle and the concept of “just right” is not new to education, particularly online education. In 1989, Moore published an editorial on Three Types of Interaction: Learner-Content, Learner-Instructor, and Learner-Learner. The important role of interaction and learning is linked historically to many other renowned thought leaders such as Dewey (1916), Vygotsky (1972), and Kolb (1984). Today, advancements in technology and neuroscience reveal that the brain changes over a lifetime through our interactions and experiences, which is referred to as neuroplasticity.

On July 1, 2021, the final rules on Distance Education and Innovation go into effect with one of the key guidelines focused on demonstrating regular and substantive interaction (Williams, 2020). Why is this important for educators? Because it is through interaction with instructors, learners, and content, both in and outside of the courses, that learning occurs. In reflecting on Moore’s Editorial from 1989, his final statement is as relevant today as it was 30 years ago, “In short, it is vitally important that distance educators in all media do more to plan for all three kinds of interaction, and use the expertise of educators and communication specialists in both traditional media-printed, broadcast, or recorded-and newer teleconference media” (Moore, 1989, p. 6).

As educators design and redesign courses across learning formats, we must build upon the literature, be aware of current and emerging research, and align courses with regulations that support learning through interaction.


In designing new courses, revising current ones, or pivoting across formats, the question to ask is: What’s in your course? Learn more about how INTERACT123 can support your work with the Goldilocks Principle. Dr. Kristen Betts


Student with papers flying out of computer, Bored student, Active Student, Three Bowls

INTERACT123 invites you to set up a DEMO to see how you can map three types of interaction (Instructor-Student, Student-Student, and Student-Content) using customizable dropdowns and dashboards to support student success across online, hybrid, face-to-face, and emergency remote formats.