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Cognitive Load Theory: Explaining our fight for focus

Overloading the working memory capacity

Your working memory capacity can be overloaded in three ways, making you feel mentally drained:

  • New routines can prevent you from the ability to do things on auto-pilot and will instead draw on your limited working memory capacity.
  • Anxiety also reduces your working memory capacity, making it more challenging to work through any mental problem that needs problem-solving.
  • Distractions that are not directly relevant to your tasks can further increase the demand on your working memory capacity.

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Our Working Memory
Our Working Memory

The limited amount of load we can take on our working memory, which functions like computer RAM, is called the cognitive load.

Miller's Law states that we nee...

Balancing Our Mental Effort

To increase our learning performance, we need to balance our cognitive load. It helps to understand what the three types of cognitive loads are:

  1. Intrinsic cognitive Load: The inner load we feel when we are calculating something complex. This is a fixed load on the brain.
  2. Extraneous cognitive load: Presenting information or a task in a certain way, like visually or verbally, making it easier to understand.
  3. Germane cognitive load: It is the flow-chart constructions of the brain, which help in long-term learning. The mind makes information easier to grasp by creating maps and inner processes, helping us understand better.
Tools To Manage The Cognitive Load
  1. Grouping or chunking of various pieces of information into different sections, making them easier to retrieve and remember.
  2. Making mind maps or process maps, and also thinking in maps making constructive associations and flow-charts.
  3. Clearing your mind by taking your thoughts out of it and projecting it where they are better visualized. This is also known as brain-dumping, and writing is a good way to understand context, build associations and improve memory.
  4. Collaborating with others using brainstorming sessions, Idea-meets, or creating a learning plan together as a team, confluence style.
Describing mental fatigue
Describing mental fatigue

It is the feeling that your brain just won't function properly. People will describe it as brain fog. You can't concentrate, and simple tasks take too long. You find th...

Causes of mental fatigue

Contributing factors to mental fatigue are poor nutrition, lack of sleep, hormonal imbalances, or cognitive overload. Cognitive overload can take the following forms:

  • When you focus on a single task for an extended period of time.
  • When you spread your attention across too many things.
  • Worrying about tasks. It is as mentally taxing as doing the task.
Give your brain high-quality fuel

Your brain is fuelled with the same food as your muscles. What you eat has an enormous impact on your cognitive functioning.

  • Cut down on refined sugars as it decreases alertness. Aim for sustained energy levels throughout the day.
  • Plan your meals in advance. If you wait until you're hungry, you're already low on energy and willpower and will reach for a quick energy boost in the form of sugar.
  • Don't skip breakfast. Without it, you may likely crash in the middle of the morning. Eat more eggs, yogurt, and oatmeal to sustain your energy levels until lunch.
  • Snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon to give your body consistent fuel.
  • Stay hydrated with water. Mild hydration can negatively impact cognitive performance.
  • Listen to your body to figure out what makes you feel best. The same nutrition advice won't work for everyone.
Social Cognitive Theory
Social Cognitive Theory

It is a learning theory developed by Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura in the 60s/70s and provides an understanding of how people get influenced and in turn influence their environment.

Observational Learning

Behaviourist B.F. Skinner had theorized that learning can only be achieved by individual action.

Social Cognitive Theory, however, states that an individual can learn by observing and imitating models, grasping and reproducing the learning much faster.

Four Processes Of Observational Learning
  • Attentional: When people observe their model.
  • Retention: When the observed information is remembered.
  • Production: When the observed information is recalled and reconstructed later, producing a variation of the learned model.
  • Motivational: Depending on the feedback and the outcome, the individual is motivated or demotivated to produce the same.