Cognitive Load Theory: 5 Strategies You Can Implement Tomorrow

Write key information down

When students are being asked to integrate multiple items of information which is not written down (transient information), not only do the students have to mentally manipulate the information in working memory, but they also have to hold each item of information in working memory too. With working memory restricted to around four items it it quickly overloaded by transient information. A simply way to avoid this happening is to ensure that all key information is also written down.

Keep important information in the same place

When students are being asked to direct their attention to two or more sources of information that are separated by space (in different locations) or time they experience the split attention effect. A good example of this is having to flip backwards and forwards in a textbook between a description and a diagram.  The limits of working memory are quickly exceeded because learners have to hold partial information in working memory whilst they switch, and then integrate another source of information. The above two points part of the reason why I have moved to providing students with important information on note sheets, which I have written about here.

Eliminate redundant information

Daniel Willingham’s famous quote “memory is the residue of thought”, means that what students thinking processes are devoted to is what they remember. If this information is not relevant to the intended learning (it is redundant) they experience overload as they use valuable working memory on redundant information, and use what is left to search for meaning between relevant and irrelevant information.

Avoid duplicating information

When students are presented with duplicates of essentially the same information valuable working memory is used as students attempt to integrate the same information simultaneously.  It is essentially a one for two trade: One piece of information uses up two spaces in working memory. An Example of this is when when a teacher reads verbatim notes from a PowerPoint slide.

Add modality

Working memory appears to have two channels, one for auditory information and anther for visual information. These two channels are not isolated, but work together when processing and integrating new information.  When these auditory and visual channels are encoded together (called dual coding), a ‘double trace’ aids memory and later retrieval. Dual coding works best when:

  • The auditory and visual information rely on each other for understanding.
  • The information complexity is relatively high.
  • The auditory component is short enough to avoid becoming transient information.

Here is a useful summary of dual coding: Dual Coding in a Nutshell by @MrTSci409

I have some cognitive load theory resources here If you want to learn more.

I hope you find this blog post useful.

Dan (@dan_braith

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