Cognitive Load Theory

What is Cognitive Load Theory? 

CognitiveLoadTheory (CLT) supports the idea that students can learn only if their mental capacity is not overloaded. In relation to this theory, it is important to be aware of the amount of information a student is asked to learn. When an overload occurs, there is often an increase in errors, poor effort, and a lack of engagement. If an overload occurs, students tend to shut down. According to the theory, there are two main elements of cognitive load:

  • Extraneous cognitive load refers to the instructional methods and depends on teachers eliminating the unnecessary. In other words, it answers the question, “what are you asking the student to learn?”
  • Intrinsic cognitive load depends on the inherent complexity of the material. Essentially, teachers have little control over this factor, but they can alleviate that complexity by enhancing the element interactivity, or the relation of material to previously learned information.

These two main elements are mostly irrelevant to students, as a high cognitive load will make learning difficult no matter which cognitive load element is being stressed. However, understanding the difference and adapting instruction when necessary is an incredibly important step for teachers to take.

How Does This Connect To Landmark’s Teaching Principles™?

Based on the concept that when students can interact and engage with the material, the transfer from acquisition to automation is more natural, it stands to reason that presenting material in multiple formats will guide students to the development of schema. Therefore, CLT relates to Landmark’s second teaching principle: Use Multiple Modalities. For the full text of the Landmark Teaching Principles™, including “Use Multiple Modalities” click here.

Sweller, John. (1994). Cognitive Load Theory, Learning Difficulty, and Instructional Design. Learning and Instruction, 4, 295

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Supporting Cognitive Load Theory


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