Cognitive Load Theory and its Applications for Learning - Scott H Young - Deepstash

Keep reading for FREE

Cognitive Load Theory

Cognitive Load Theory

Cognitive load theory, developed in the 1980s by psychologist John Sweller , has become a dominant paradigm for the design of teaching materials.


1.52K reads

Three Types Of Cognitive Load

Cognitive load theory separates three different demands that learning puts on our limited working memory capacity:

  1. Intrinsic load. The combined attention that’s necessary to learn the pattern that will be put into long-term memory.
  2. Extraneous load. Unnecessary load distracts from learning the pattern. Obvious distractions that eat up working memory, such as television in the background, make learning harder.
  3. Germane load. Efforts that improve learning outcomes but are not strictly necessary to learn the pattern.


894 reads

Key Experiments in Cognitive Load Theory

Over the past few decades, cognitive load theory has amassed a lot of interesting experimental effects with catchy-sounding names. Here are a few:


1K reads

1. The Worked-Example Effect

1. The Worked-Example Effect

Traditionally, math education has focused on having students solve problems to get good at math. Sweller and Cooper pushed back against this idea, showing that studying worked examples (problems, along with detailed solutions) is often more efficient.

Worked examples have since been shown to be powerful tools in many domains. The rationale is that problem solving is a cognitively demanding activity. This creates a lot of extraneous load, making it harder to abstract what the general solution procedure involves.


711 reads

2. The Split-Attention Effect

2. The Split-Attention Effect

Cognitive load isn’t just found in problem solving. Badly designed instructional materials can increase cognitive load by requiring learners to move their attention around to understand them.

Consider these two flashcards for learning Chinese characters. The first creates extra cognitive load since the pairing between sound and character requires more spatial manipulation. Learning is enhanced when instructional materials are organized so that information doesn’t require any manipulation to be understood.


666 reads

Applying Cognitive Load Theory to Your Studies

Cognitive load theory’s principal applications are in instructional design. How should a subject be taught so that students will efficiently master the patterns of knowledge it contains? Cognitive load theory favors direct instruction, quick feedback and plenty of practice.

Here are a few suggestions:


645 reads

1. If a class confuses you, slow it down early.

In my experience, the Feynman Technique mainly works by slowing things down. A concept can be confusing in a lecture because critical assumptions aren’t made explicit or intervening steps are skipped. Walking through the explanation yourself lets you figure out exactly where you get lost.


685 reads

2. Build your prerequisite knowledge and procedural fluency.

Math and science tend to have high element interactivity, which is why mastery of them is seen as a sign of intelligence. Working memory is associated with intelligence, and those with slightly more working memory can handle slightly greater element interactivity. While this creates only a modest advantage in the short term, greater ease in learning basic concepts can accumulate into a considerable advantage in the long run .

If you’re struggling in a subject with high element interactivity, the key is to go back and invest in more practice in the underlying skills.


563 reads



Ready for the next level?

Read Like a Pro


Explore the World’s

Best Ideas

200,000+ ideas on pretty much any topic. Created by the smartest people around & well-organized so you can explore at will.

An Idea for Everything

Explore the biggest library of insights. And we've infused it with powerful filtering tools so you can easily find what you need.

Knowledge Library

Powerful Saving & Organizational Tools

Save ideas for later reading, for personalized stashes, or for remembering it later.

# Personal Growth

Take Your Ideas


Organize your ideas & listen on the go. And with Pro, there are no limits.

Listen on the go

Just press play and we take care of the words.

Never worry about spotty connections

No Internet access? No problem. Within the mobile app, all your ideas are available, even when offline.

Get Organized with Stashes

Ideas for your next work project? Quotes that inspire you? Put them in the right place so you never lose them.


2 Million Stashers



5,740 Reviews

App Store



72,690 Reviews

Google Play


Don’t look further if you love learning new things. A refreshing concept that provides quick ideas for busy thought leaders.

Shankul Varada

Best app ever! You heard it right. This app has helped me get back on my quest to get things done while equipping myself with knowledge everyday.

Sean Green

Great interesting short snippets of informative articles. Highly recommended to anyone who loves information and lacks patience.

Ashley Anthony

This app is LOADED with RELEVANT, HELPFUL, AND EDUCATIONAL material. It is creatively intellectual, yet minimal enough to not overstimulate and create a learning block. I am exceptionally impressed with this app!

Ghazala Begum

Even five minutes a day will improve your thinking. I've come across new ideas and learnt to improve existing ways to become more motivated, confident and happier.

Giovanna Scalzone

Brilliant. It feels fresh and encouraging. So many interesting pieces of information that are just enough to absorb and apply. So happy I found this.

Laetitia Berton

I have only been using it for a few days now, but I have found answers to questions I had never consciously formulated, or to problems I face everyday at work or at home. I wish I had found this earlier, highly recommended!

Jamyson Haug

Great for quick bits of information and interesting ideas around whatever topics you are interested in. Visually, it looks great as well.

Read & Learn

20x Faster





Access to 200,000+ ideas

Access to the mobile app

Unlimited idea saving & library

Unlimited history

Unlimited listening to ideas

Downloading & offline access

Personalized recommendations


Claim Your Limited Offer

Get Deepstash Pro


75% OFF | 1-Year Pro Subscription

Claim Offer