Cognitively loaded

15 Dec 2018 |Written by Kevin Maye

What’s the theory?

Cognitive load theory suggests that when we're learning something new our brains have to deal with three types of load:

  1. Intrinsic load. The mental effort needed just to learn the specific thing we're learning.
  2. Extrinsic load. Anything that makes it harder for us to learn, like any distracting cat gifs.
  3. Germane load. The name for the effort we put into creating our mental model to allow recall, our schema as it's called.

For any two people learning the same thing, the overall load will vary. That's because we have different starting points, different existing schema and even just that we're not all distracted by cat gifs.


What doesn't change is that we all have a limited ability to take in new information or skills and process them. Even capable learners can be overwhelmed if there's too much new information or too many distractions. At that point, they stop learning and can be put off.

What's our current take on this?

This matters a lot to us. The idea of Learn My Way is to support people learning new digital skills with little or no experience of computers or the internet.

That means new concepts, people in this situation are faced with a significant intrinsic load.

It also means their existing schema is going to be of limited relevance and new schema are going to be required in some cases. So the germane load is also significant.

Putting those things together, we need to keep any extraneous load levels low to avoid overwhelming people and impacting on their learning.

So you'll find courses on Learn My Way are written to a low reading age. We don't introduce too many concepts or ideas at the same time. And we never include distracting videos of funny dogs

At the same time, it's a balancing act because if things are too easy then people become bored and get distracted more easily. Even pictures of clouds will distract someone who's bored 


Should we change what we do?

Is a question we don't think we can answer right now. Which is one reason for this post.

If you're using Learn My Way we'd love to hear what you think about the cognitive load it puts on learners.

Is it too easy and people switch off before they grasp things? Is it too hard and people become overwhelmed before they grasp things?

Please get in touch to share your experience of using Learn My Way. If you have any things that you do to help your learners make the most of Learn My Way we'd love to hear those too.

Email us at with your thoughts and suggestions. Cognitive load is a challenge we need to get right, we'd love your help.