Tips to Avoid Cognitive Overload in Employee Training Programs

Designing Digitally


Tips to Avoid Cognitive Overload in Employee Training Programs

The internet era brought with it the most valuable asset possessed by humanity: knowledge. Information is abundant to anyone owning a desktop computer, laptop, or handheld device. Not all information represents valuable knowledge; we can receive conflicting information and find it hard to differentiate between useful and trivial content. Moreover, too much information can overload cognitive processes and renders the knowledge useless. This is because the brain has limited bandwidth for stocking new information. The same issue can appear in eLearning.

There's a growing need for efficiently discerning between what to include in an employee training course, and what should be left out. If the learner receives a content load that is too heavy, learning capacity peaks. Thus, it is important to present the learner with only the key concepts, the right amount of information, and in the right format.

Cognitive Overload in Learning

To understand what cognitive overload means, we first need to define what cognitive load means. According to the Cognitive Load Theory proposed by John Sweller, humans have a maximum capacity for learning for a set period. It's like trying to fit two liters of water in a cup; at one point, the cup will overflow, and the cup can contain no more water.

The same thing happens with memory. Giving learners too much information or delivering it at a higher speed than they can absorb results in cognitive overload. After passing this knowledge absorption threshold, the learner's memory cannot stock any new information. 

There are two types of memory and three types of cognitive loads. The two kinds of memory include working memory (which takes in what you are learning right now) and long-term memory (where the learned content settles until it needs to utilizing). Managing cognitive load can help working memory pass information into long-term memory. 

Sweller's CLT explains that every person displays three types of cognitive loads:

  • Germane cognitive load is the capacity of working memory to organize, categorize, and process learning frameworks. You'll want to provide learners with new information that makes heavy use of their germane capacities.

  • Extraneous cognitive load is the type of memory process that gets activated by the method of information delivery. Instructional designers have complete control over extraneous loads so far as they present information in the simplest, most efficient way possible.

  • Intrinsic cognitive load refers to the level of difficulty the learning material bears. Your instructional designer cannot alter a subject’s inherent problem but can break it down into smaller, more easily digestible parts.

Read also: Simulated Training and Overcoming the Forgetting Curve

Tips to Avoid Cognitive Overload

There are ways to work around cognitive overload. Balancing germane with extraneous loads while simplifying the intrinsic load can yield a highly absorbable learning content. To do this, your designer will need to:

  1. Simplify Content

Key concepts need explaining in simple language. Take away any convoluted phrases, nonessential information, and elaborate explanations, and what you should have left is highly relevant content that helps the learner's working memory pass the data into the long-term memory. The learner will be able to activate their germane cognition processes and easily retain new information.

  1. Prepare Bite-Sized Information (chunking, microlearning)

Chunking and microlearning are the perfect knowledge delivery methods for long-term recall. Breaking heavy concepts down into a series of specific lessons will allow learners the memory space and time to process the new information, which leads to a deeper understanding of information that will effortlessly pass into long-term memory. 

Read also: Ways to Ensure Microlearning Modules Boost Knowledge Retention

  1. Vary the Delivery Methods 

Content delivery methods that mix visual, auditory, sensory, and kinesthetic learning have a higher chance of maximizing knowledge retention. People learn in different ways, and your course presentation should include video, reading, interactive quizzes, and other such elements that make learning engaging and interactive.


Keep in mind that memory has two components, and you'll need to organize information efficiently and mix your content delivery styles. This way, you will maximize the amount of data that reaches long-term memory.

Make a note of these tips to avoid cognitive overload and research more information about designing eLearning to reduce cognitive overload. To discover the training options best for your employees, contact our team today!

Please note this article was updated by our team on 4/22/2021.