May 262011

Cognitive Load: What is Cognitive Load?

Cognitive Load: By Connie Malamed, the eLearning Coach

As far as I can tell, working memory (WM), the part of our brain that consciously processes information, dominates everything we do in terms of learning. Working memory can only hold 4-5 bits of information at one time and information in working memory lasts only around ten seconds. The fact that our working memories have a small capacity and a short duration is worthy of headline news. It’s what we’re up against as humans and as learning experience designers.

Interactions Between WM and LTM

Unlike working memory, long-term memory appears to have an unlimited capacity. Information in long-term memory (LTM) is stored in schemas, which are mental structures we use to organize and structure knowledge. Schemas incorporate multiple elements of information into a single element with a specific function. The interaction goes both ways. We construct new schemas in working memory so they can be integrated into existing knowledge in long-term memory. And existing knowledge in LTM is brought into working memory to help us understand the world. Otherwise, everything would be new all the time!

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