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Why is Cognitive Load the Answer to Almost Everything?

When you develop training and learning materials it is critical that you see them through the eyes of the learner. Every learning and performance objective should be driven by a goal. It is your job to make sure the learner is focused on that goal. Your first consideration must always be designing the presentations or the training with your learning audience in mind. Not what you have in mind but what is in theirs.

The term, cognitive load, was coined by Sweller in 1988 to refer to the load placed on working memory during thinking, problem solving or reasoning. (This includes perception, memory and language.) Cognitive load is determined by the amount of information passing through to the visual and auditory functions in working memory. The entire idea behind cognitive load is that in order for information to make it to long term memory and therefore be available for retrieval, transfer and application to life situations, it must get there by first passing through working memory.

Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer are among those who have done some wonderful work in this area. While there continues to be a great deal of research and work done on learning and cognitive load, here is the bottom line: less is more. That is it. That is all you have to remember: less is more. Simple. When in doubt, minimize cognitive load. Limited cognitive load is one of the foundation principles for creating good learning visuals.