Cognitive load theory and educational technology

  • John SwellerEmail author
Special Interests


Cognitive load theory provides instructional recommendations based on our knowledge of human cognition. Evolutionary psychology is used to assume that knowledge should be divided into biologically primary information that we have specifically evolved to acquire and biologically secondary information that we have not specifically evolved to acquire. Primary knowledge frequently consists of generic-cognitive skills that are important to human survival and cannot be taught because they are acquired unconsciously while secondary knowledge is usually domain-specific in nature and requires explicit instruction in education and training contexts. Secondary knowledge is first processed by a limited capacity, limited duration working memory before being permanently stored in long-term memory from where unlimited amounts of information can be transferred back to working memory to govern action appropriate for the environment. The theory uses this cognitive architecture to design instructional procedures largely relevant to complex information that requires a reduction in working memory load. Many of those instructional procedures can be most readily used with the assistance of educational technology.


Cognitive load theory Human cognitive architecture Evolutionary psychology Instructional design 




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Conflict of interest

The author declares that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Association for Educational Communications and Technology 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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