Cognitive Load Theory

Cognitive Load Theory

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Personally, I experienced a “cognitive overload” when I initially read the definition of the Cognitive Load Theory as defined by Specter et al. (2014, p. 57); it reads as followed: “Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) proposes a model of human cognitive architecture (Sweller, 2010; Sweller, Van Merriënboer, & Paas, 1998) that helps explain and predict the allocation of working memory resources and the interaction between working memory and long-term memory to deal with (a) intrinsic cognitive load (caused by the intrinsic complexity of information), (b) extraneous cognitive load (caused by ineffective presentation of information), and (c) germane cognitive load (effective processing resulting in deeper learning)”.

I took the liberty to simplify the definition to read: “The ability of the human brain to process working and long-term memory based on the (a) complexity of the information presented, (b) lack of a well-prepared presentation, and (c) lack of processing information by the receiver to learn”. According to the Cognitive Load Theory, there is a breakdown in communication between the sender and the receiver (whether audible or visual) due to noise. The lack of comprehension on the part of the receiver occurs when this noise shows itself in the form of intrinsic, extraneous and germane cognitive loads.

I have observed intrinsic loading with students in the classroom who are not comprehending the information being presented, this is usually exhibited by what I call the “nonverbal blank stare” or the “deer in the headlights look”. The comprehension of these students’ can usually be refuted by using various questioning techniques on the material being presented to confirm if the students are understanding the material being presented.


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

Sweller, J. (2010). Element interactivity and intrinsic, extraneous and germane cognitive load. Educational Psychology Review, 22 , 123–138.

Sweller, J., van Merriënboer, J. J. G., & Paas, F. (1998). Cognitive architecture and instructional design. Educational Psychology Review, 10 , 251–295.


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Cognitive Load Theory


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