Cognitive load theory is perhaps the most important consideration a teacher needs to have in their minds when developing and delivering a sequence of learning. Pioneered by John Sweller, it implores teachers to consider the functioning of the brain in terms of working memory, and particularly its capacity and limitations.

When introducing new material to a student, the teacher should consider how much strain is being applied to the working memory, because if it is too much, learning won’t happen. The theory also has large implications for the sequence of curriculum, with incremental building and a progression model of curriculum likely to be a better option so students can continuoulsy build cognitive schemas that can be applied to new information presented to them. Without the schemas, working memory can easily be overworked, and become incapacitated.

The model therefore becomes inextricably linked to memory and the imperative of helping students retain information that can then move into the long term memory, and can be drawn on when new information requires previous knowledge to assist in its understanding. The paper can be found here.

There are numerous excellent articles and posts about cognitive load theory and its implications for teaching, and i list the most notable ones below:

Cognitive load theory: Research that teachers really need to understand:

What Limits Working Memory Capacity? March 2016, Psychological Bulletin 142(7),

Simplifying Cognitive Load Theory by Adam Boxer

A page full of links to research here

Putting Students on the Path to Learning:

The magical number 4 in short-term memory: a reconsideration of mental storage capacity. N Cowan1.

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me @edmerger and follow this blog for more English teaching resources.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s