How to improve learning by reducing cognitive load

Understand why pupils get overwhelmed with information, and learn strategies to maximise learning by reducing cognitive load. Download our handout to use in CPD sessions and during lesson observations.

Last reviewed on 21 February 2023
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  1. What is cognitive load theory?
  2. How does cognitive overload affect pupils?
  3. How can teachers reduce cognitive load?
  4. Download our handout with strategies to reduce cognitive load

What is cognitive load theory?

The working memory is where we hold information and manipulate it to ‘learn’ it. It can only hold a small amount of information ('load') at a time: usually about 5 or 6 items. This is different from our long-term memory, which in theory is infinite. 

Cognitive load theory describes how pupils’ working memory can be overloaded. To make learning most effective, teachers should use strategies to avoid this.

How does cognitive overload affect pupils?

It can cause them to make 'silly' mistakes

A similar problem occurs when pupils are asked to read a long paragraph from the board,