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Cognitive Load Theory

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According to Spector, Merrill and Elen (2014) in Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology, “Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) is a psychological theory that attempts to explain how different tasks and technologies place varying demands on a working memory that has limited capacity (p. 761). In his PowerPoint presentation, Dr. Holder taught about John Sweller and his theory that the working memory only has a finite ability to process so much information before it becomes nothing and goes away. This was referred to as the cognitive load. We process information in two separate ways. We process visual information and auditory information. According to Dr. Holder, we can only process nine chunks of information in to each of these processors at once then it must be merged with long term memory and then long term memory puts it away. It is important that once your long term memory stores it that it can be recalled. The mind must be able to recall the information and bring it out in order for it to be used. In the article Teaching & Learning Tips 2: Cognitive Load Theory Rana and Burgin (2017) state that the working memory is influenced by the intrinsic load, the extraneous load and the germane load. “The goal is to reduce extraneous load and intrinsic load (when possible) while optimizing germane (“learning effort”) load” (Rana & Burgin, 2017).

In my classroom I have seen the effects of students reaching their cognitive load. I teach four and five year old preschool students and when students are actively processing information I can see in their eyes that they are listening and paying attention. When they reach their cognitive load, however, they start fidgeting with their clothes, playing with their neighbor, playing with things they find on the floor or staring out the window. I think that it is important to recognize these signs so that you know when to stop the lesson or change the lesson to get them back on track. If their minds are in process overload that aren't going to retain any further information presented to them so the lesson may need to be shifted so that their minds can store the information in to long term memory so that it can be built upon the next day.


Holder, D. (2019). EDUC 631: Foundations and theory of distance education [powerpoint slides]. Retrieved from… Wk%203%20Instructional%20Design%20%28LMS%29/res/html5.html

Rana, J., & Burgin, S. (2017). Teaching & Learning Tips 2: Cognitive load theory. International Journal of Dermatology,56(12), 1438-1441. doi:10.1111/ijd.13707

Spector, M., Merrill M., Elen J., & Bishop M. (2014). Handbook of research on educational communications and technology. (4th ed.) New York, NY. Springer.

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