Canada Association of Tourism Employees

Your Information To Cognitive Load Concept And Studying

Why is employee training important?

One of the biggest challenges in designing and delivering effective employee training isn’t content. You are a professional with deep knowledge. It’s not even time or resources – one might be limited, but the other is flexible and can be maneuvered to meet your needs. Your biggest challenge is understanding how adults actually learn – how much can they ingest and what is the best learning environment for the job? Cognitive load theory explains why it is important to give employees exactly what they can handle in a meaningful format so that they can learn, maintain, and use the training you offer. Here’s your guide to cognitive load theory and why it’s so incredibly important to employee learning.

What is cognitive load theory?

Cognitive stress theory starts with the idea that people can only absorb so much information before it becomes meaningless. Even if you use the image of the brain as a sponge, here are some things to keep in mind: Even sponges become full and cannot absorb more liquid. Too much information, carelessly conveyed, means that the cognitive load is increased so much that the learner can simply no longer absorb it.

The theory of cognitive load states that, under optimal conditions, people (children and adults alike) learn best with learning tasks that suit them, their learning style and the application of the information. The aim is to think about how much information is too much and what conditions are not well suited to learning new information.

How does cognitive stress theory work?

For learners and development professionals, we should focus on understanding how our employee training materials turn short-term memory information into an integral part of the learning scheme. This transformation requires a slow and arduous task, and makes it seamless and easy. It becomes second-hand because it is part of the structure of our brain.

However, if too many facts are provided without focusing on how to incorporate them into their schema, employees become frustrated and less engaged. Your performance will suffer and your desire to complete your workout will disappear. You may have the best intention of training your staff, but unless you are careful to balance the cognitive load on the staff, you have not set them up to learn well. You need to consider all of the factors involved in designing and presenting information, as well as bringing people to the training course, to successfully balance the cognitive load.

Types of cognitive load on your employees

Factors that increase cognitive load are not only present in your work environment, but also in all areas of life. Employees bring their whole selves to work – the same self who is not just an employee, but also a parent, partner, and community member. Whether at home or at work, there are three main types of cognitive load on your employees.


The cognitive load is higher depending on the task itself. This occurs when the task is complex and involves multiple steps. Imagine a piece of furniture that needs assembly or surgery. There are several steps that can become overwhelming when considered all at the same time.

Some tasks are more difficult to complete than others – cognitive stress theory says that these tasks increase the demands on our employees.


The foreign cognitive load increases due to external factors. This could be due to the design of the task, the environment in which instructions are provided, or other factors not directly related to the task. (Like children screaming in the background, construction noise, or news reports.) As we all know, outside distractions can make learning difficult, even when the task is easy.


The German cognitive load is essentially balanced in such a way that the creation of schemes (processing of new information) is facilitated. When it comes to Cognitive Stress Theory and Instructional Design this is the place you want to go to.

Managing Cognitive Load in eLearning

The reduction of the cognitive load for the employees concentrates on the minimization of the external load, the administration of the own load and the use of the German load. Here are 8 ways to do this:

1. Explain how the exercise will help

Connect learners to the training by telling them exactly how the training will be of use to them. This will help them invest in the work right away.

2. Minimize distractions

This means that distractions are considered both outside of the information and within the task (see below):

  • Give employees time and space to study on their day
  • Plan your workout carefully so that it takes less time
  • Avoid already stressful training times

Many of these issues can be addressed with just-in-time e-learning tools that give employees access to training when they have the time and space to do so.

3. Keep the information short and simple

Always take a step back when putting training together to make sure it doesn’t include extraneous information. For example, in a safety training course, your employees don’t need a short lesson on company history. Focus your information on the topic at hand for maximum benefit.

Also, avoid complicated graphs and charts unless absolutely necessary. Don’t pack every part of your workout with information. When designing a video or slide presentation, consider spaces. Keep visual and auditory stimuli to a minimum unless they are required.

You can also use acronyms and reminders to aid memory and further simplify information. Choose small bits of information (rather than large pieces).

4. Pay attention to the flow of information

Did you organize the information sensibly? For example, if you ask employees to join in on the screen, for cultures that read this way, did you organize the text top-to-bottom and left-to-right? Only this minor adjustment will reduce the foreign cognitive burden (and frustration) on employees.

5. Break down tasks into easy steps

For information that has a high dead weight, break it down into simple, logical steps, each with a lot of practice in between.

6. Present information for different learning styles

Some employees learn best with charts and graphs. Others prefer to read information. Still others learn best in an audio format. Offer a variety of presentation styles to appeal to a wide variety of learners.

7. Use questions that focus on building long-term memory

Design your eLearning courses so that there is a logical point where staff can answer questions that reinforce the material or ask them to use it. Think less of “Read the chapter and answer the questions” and more of “How does this information apply to what you already know?”

Again, focus on keeping all information (and activities!) Concise and focusing on the topic at hand. Carefully delete any questions, activities, or interactive features that have nothing to do with the most important aspects of your workout. Stick to the topic and keep it relevant – your employees will thank you.

8. Don’t expect people to listen and do a task at the same time

If you are in a synchronous study session, speak or ask staff to read or complete an assignment. In practice, cognitive stress theory dictates one or the other.


Understanding cognitive stress theory is a critical part of designing high quality employee training. Consideration is given to what employees need, when they need it and how they can best integrate new information.

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