The Learning for Life Partnership

Cognitive Load Theory

61e59cdd3fba85e24d482ee1 Using the cognitive load theory



As teachers, Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) is an important idea that we should use to inform the way we teach. In fact, it can significantly affect learning outcomes. 

In a nutshell, it’s about adapting the way we teach to cater for students’ limited working memory. 

The theory itself was born out of John Sweller’s research into problem solving in the late 1980s. Sweller was interested in the ways humans gain knowledge. He wanted to better understand how we can reduce the cognitive load of learners so they can retain more information for longer. 

Cognitive load theory was recently described by British educationalist Dylan Wiliam as ‘the single most important thing for teachers to know’ (Wiliam 2017).

Cognitive load theory is supported by a robust evidence base which shows that students learn best when they are given explicit instruction accompanied by lots of practice and feedback.

Researchers have identified a number of strategies that can help teachers to maximise student learning. These strategies work by optimising the load on students’ working memories.

Strategy 1:  Tailor lessons according to students' existing knowledge and skill.

Strategy 2:  Use worked examples to teach students new content or skills.

Strategy 3:  Gradually increase independent problem-solving as students become more proficient.

Strategy 4:  Cut out inessential information (redundancy effect)

Strategy 5:  Present all the essential information together

Strategy 6:  Simplify complex information by presenting it both orally and visually (Dual coding)

For more information about each strategy visit