Understanding cognitive load theory

Remove the overload to design your teaching for student learning success. 

This resource applies cognitive load theory (CLT) to help students to learn within the SC Model. The information, techniques and images are from Associate Professor Raina Mason’s 2021 Talking Teaching webinar presentation on Understanding and designing for cognitive load: How to enhance student success

Research indicates understanding cognitive load (the amount of information that working memory can hold at one time) helps educators to design, develop and deliver inspired instructional experiences for students. Removing cognitive overload enables teachers to inspire students to learn.

The image below shows the elements in play that can lead to cognitive overload. If we receive more items than working memory can hold, it leads to cognitive overload.

Image from Raina Mason

Cognitive load theory resources

Raina discussed a number of strategies and techniques to help teachers understand CLT and its application to the SC Model framework:

If you would like to learn more, see the Café Toolkit CLT information library.


Mason, R., & Seton, C. (2020). Assessing International Students: The Role of Cognitive Load. Proceedings of the Twenty-Second Australasian Computing Education Conference, 160–166. https://doi.org/10.1145/3373165.3373183

Mason, R., & Seton, C. (2021). Leveling the playing field for international students in IT courses - ACE '21: Australasian Computing Education Conference, February 2021, 138–146. https://doi.org/10.1145/3441636.3442316

Sweller, J., Ayres, P., & Kalyuga, S. (2011). Cognitive Load Theory. Springer. http://www.springer.com/us/book/9781441981257

(Please note - it's better to refer to the Online version rather than export, as it's always up to date)