Magazine article Teaching Business & Economics

Lessons They Will Remember: Cognitive Load Theory in Business & Economics

Magazine article Teaching Business & Economics

Lessons They Will Remember: Cognitive Load Theory in Business & Economics

Article excerpt

Jade Slater considers how an understanding of our memory systems can transform student knowledge retention.

"Cognitive Load Theory is the single most important thing for teachers to know"(Dylan William)


The human memory can be divided into the working memory and the long-term memory. The long-term memory is the memory system where large amounts of information are stored semi-permanently in the form of schemas. In contrast, the working memory processes what we are currently doing and can only deal with a limited amount of information - most people can hold four chunks of information in their working memory at one time.

The cognitive load in a task refers to the amount of effort or information processing that is required by the working memory to complete this task. According to Cognitive Load Theory there are three types of cognitive load:

1. Intrinsic cognitive load - the inherent difficulty associated with a task or of the material being learnt.

2. Extraneous cognitive load - this is any difficulty created by how the task is presented for example, some problems may be presented to students with very limited input from the teacher putting an extra, unhelpful load on the working memory. This type cognitive load should be minimized.

3. Germane cognitive load - this refers to the work put into creating a permanent store of knowledge or to transfer knowledge into the long-term memory.

Learning occurs when information is transferred from the working memory into the long-term memory. Therefore, if the cognitive load of the task is too large the working memory is overloaded, and learning is impaired. Therefore, to increase learning cognitive load should be reduced.


1. Use a 'simple-to-complex' approach, where the elements of the material are introduced to the learner in a simple-to-complex order. This may mean introducing the basic knowledge before adding analysis and evaluation. For example, when teaching sources of finance, you would explain what each of the sources was before considering the advantages and drawbacks, and then asking pupils to compare the sources. …

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