Preventing or reducing cognitive overload

For our assignment this week, we were asked to choose an interesting blog post and make a response or contribute to the content. I chose a fascinating article by Connie Malamed ( about methods to reduce cognitive load, since this ties in well with our current week’s topic of neuroscience and information processing.


In her blog post, Connie discusses ways to reduce cognitive load that are under the control of the instructional designer. These include removing extraneous content, incorporating reflection practices, writing succinctly, scaffolding new learning, allowing collaboration (to increase efficiency of learning), and supplying cognitive aids. These strategies are backed up by significant scientific research. I found a couple related articles in various scientific journals that provide additional suggestions.


The first article, by Jianzhen Chen of the Tianjin University of Technology and Education, focused on reducing cognitive load in mobile learning. Chen describes cognitive overload caused by poor instructional design, such as when a learner attempts to solve a presented problem, but no problem solving procedure has been presented. Additional issues are caused when information that is needed simultaneously is not available simultaneously, too much new information is introduced too quickly, or learners do not have the prerequisite prior knowledge. Chen provides some suggestions for alleviating these issues such as including learners in the development of the mobile learning, providing proper access to learning resources, removing extraneous content and improving usability of the interface.


The second article, by Annelies Vredeveldt, Graham J. Hitch, and Alan D. Baddeley, focused on visualization through eye closure. Although this article was not specific to instructional design, it does have implications in learning, specifically as related to the use of reflection. According to the article “Closing the eyes helps people to remember. When faced with a difficult task, people often spontaneously close their eyes or look away,” (Vredeveldt, 2011). The main theory behind this effect is that eye closure reduces the cognitive load, as a result of freeing cognitive resources. An additional theory is that by closing the eyes and blocking visual distractions, an individual can better visualize what they are trying to remember. These concepts come into play in regards to learning when we ask learners to reflect on their learning. Perhaps a suggestion to close their eyes would actually be very useful in helping them recall more of the content that was presented. It could also help to have learners close their eyes when attempting to activate prior knowledge, so that they can make better connections to the newly learned information while it is in their short term memory and being encoded for storage in long term memory.


Overall, the suggestions provided by Connie Malamed, as well as the additional suggestions by Chen and Vredeveldt would likely be very helpful to an instructional designer. Understanding how to limit cognitive overload would allow an instructional designer to develop more effective courses that encourage rather than challenge learning.



Chen, J. (2010). Proceedings from 2010 International Conference on Networking and Digital Society: Reducing cognitive load in mobile learning: activity-centered perspectives. United States.


Malamed, C. (n.d.). Six strategies you may not be using to reduce cognitive load. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from


Vredeveldt, A., Hitch, G.J., & Baddeley, A.D. (2011). Eyeclosure helps memory by reducing cognitive load and enhancing visualisation. Memory and Cognition. Vol 39: 1253-1263.