Academic Resources » Cognitive Load Theory

Cognitive Load Theory

What is it?

Developed by John Sweller in the 1980s, cognitive load theory is based on the way humans process information from working memory to long-term memory. The working memory can only hold so much information at one time before it is processed to the long-term memory.  Excessive information or activities can overwhelm one’s cognitive load—the cognitive effort it takes to complete a task—and can lead to ineffective learning as a result. 

Why is it Important?

Reducing strain on students’ cognitive load in the classroom can improve information processing and allow for a more efficient educational experience for all involved.

How can faculty apply it to the classroom?

To avoid overwhelming your student’s cognitive load, try the following:

  1. Avoid too much information on slide presentations while lecturing so students can listen and take notes without having to read at the same time.
  2. Provide time and resources for students to achieve proficiency in necessary technology skills before requiring the application of these skills to learning course concepts
  3. Demonstrate worked example problems and/or partially solved problems before students engage in exploratory practicing of material
  4. Utilize both visual and verbal representations of materials
  5. Limit unnecessary information and media to avoid splitting attention with essential information  


“Cognitive Load Theory and Its Application in the Classroom.” Impact.Chartered.College,

Cognitive Load Theory: Making Learning More Effective.

Morrison, Gary R., and Gary J. Anglin. “Research on Cognitive Load Theory: Application to e-Learning.” Educational Technology Research and Development, vol. 53, no. 3, Sept. 2005, pp. 94–104. (Crossref),

Sweller, John. “Cognitive Load during Problem Solving: Effects on Learning.” Cognitive Science, vol. 12, no. 2, Apr. 1988, pp. 257–85. ScienceDirect,