Simplifying Cognitive Load Theory

A Chemical Orthodoxy

Sweller’s Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) may be the single most important thing for teachers to know, but it was not necessarily designed with teachers in mind. The product of lab-based randomised controlled trials, it is a theory from the specific academic discipline Cognitive Science. In recent years teachers have found it incredibly useful and many blogs and books have been written trying to explain it and how it can be utilised in front-line education.

In my experience, most will use Willingham’s graphic below in order to explain CLT:


A very general reference to the working memory being limited will be made, and a discussion of how if it is “overloaded” learning cannot occur. To me, this is too general to be enormously useful (1). Often, blogs and articles can be more helpful by identifying specific aspects of CLT like dual coding or chunking, and though this is incredibly important…

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