Online Learning March 6, 2023

What is Cognitive Overload, And How Can We Avoid It?

Writen by EditorialTeam

comments 0

What is Cognitive Overload And How Can We Avoid It?

We might hold different viewpoints about multitasking, but our minds cannot handle it as much as we think. This over-ambitious mindset affects productivity and emotions. Hence, it works against us, subjecting us to cognitive overload, even in virtual learning environments. We should be aware of this and structure training lessons to ensure students are being overloaded. Moreover, understanding the causes of cognitive overload can help us reduce its effects on e-learning.

What is Cognitive Overload?

Throughout the day, our minds constantly receive and process new information in our working memory. However, it is noteworthy that our working memory can only handle so much. When it gets overloaded, retaining information and recalling it later for use becomes challenging. Alternatively speaking, cognitive overload happens when our minds receive more than they can handle or process, ultimately affecting our productivity.

What is Cognitive Overload?

Cognitive Load Theory will help us understand what contributes to overload by breaking it down into three types.


Some concepts are more complex than others. Intrinsic refers to the level of difficulty of the concept, the more complex the subject matter is, the greater the load.



Not all components of the learning experience improve the content. Extraneous pertain to elements that are not directly related to the learning experience. For instance, irrelevant animations or pictures can contribute to cognitive overload.


Certain pieces of content and information help us retain knowledge better and enhance the overall learning experience. Germane refers to processes that aid our working memory to process information effectively.

Finding a balance between these types of loads is essential to meet the sweet spot for feeding our working memories with the information it can handle. Eventually, it will result in better memorization, knowledge retention, and overall better performance. 

Although online learning environments already help us to create this balance, there are a few crucial steps to help ensure that you do not hit learners’ working memory limits.

Symptoms of Cognitive Overload

Before focusing on the ways to reduce cognitive overload in online learning, let’s first understand the signs of cognitive overload. As a result, we’ll be able to identify when we might be subjecting students to this load;

Symptoms of Cognitive Overload

Frequently Forgetting Important Information

We can all get a little forgetful. However, if students struggle frequently to recall stuff, they might be trying to remember too much information.

Making Errors

If students are making careless mistakes that can be avoided, then they must be struggling to fully concentrate due to cognitive overload.

Making Errors

Inability To Concentrate

It is vital to pay full attention to the task at hand, but when there is a memory overload, the student’s mind goes elsewhere, making it impossible to focus on the learning material.

Inability To Concentrate

Examples of Cognitive Overload

To create a better learning environment, let’s dig into the common mistakes students and educators make that cause cognitive overload.

Information Dumping

When the subject matter has a lot of information that needs to be shared, it is easier to dump it all at once. Consequently, it prevents learners from fully absorbing and storing the information for later use.


It is vital to make learning environments as interactive and fun as possible. However, it sometimes takes away from the critical points in the lesson.

Too Much To Do

When the concept is short and to the point, it is still easier to drag it out and make the lesson longer than it’s required. Eventually, students lose interest and pay no attention to the lectures.

Reducing Cognitive Overload

In online learning environments, cognitive overload is common. Students constantly attain and process new information to succeed in their educational journeys. As an educator, it is essential to reduce their mental burden for a better learning experience and ultimately create better learning spaces for students. Moreover, the more you reduce cognitive overload, the better your students will retain and recall the information shared.

While institutions and instructors strive to make e-learning environments more structured and student-friendly, they can still fall victim to cognitive overload.

Reducing Cognitive Overload

Hence, educators can follow the essential steps discussed below to ensure that students get the most out of lessons and e-learning space without feeling overwhelmed.


The simpler the lessons are, the better. Of course, we can all use lectures with too much information and fancy words, but the best way to keep students engaged is to make the learning material as basic and straightforward as possible.

Consider Every Student

Every student learns at their own pace. So, let your learners go through the content at their own speed. Thus, they won’t feel like there’s too much going on at once.

Use Chunking

If the lessons include too much content, it is wiser to break them down into smaller digestible topics. Also, keep ’em short, so you avoid the risk of putting too much information in one course. Otherwise, crucial key points may get lost.

Use Chunking

Use Various Delivery Methods

Instructors must include varied delivery methods and visuals to aid learning. Every individual learns differently, so try to present content in different ways so every student can relate.

Evaluate Knowledge

Let your students assess and interpret what they’ve learned in your courses. Then, create engaging and interactive knowledge checks to put the learning into practice. Hence, it will help students identify situations when they should recall the information.

Evaluate Knowledge

Final Thoughts!

Cognitive overload proves to be a thorn for e-learning educators and stakeholders. In a perfect world, the human mind would know no boundaries and can absorb infinite knowledge without feeling strained. However, that is not the ideal case in the real world, and we must ensure that our online learning courses are designed to strike a perfect balance. Giving too much information to online learners will overwhelm them, and offering too little will bore them. So, educators and organizations are responsible for identifying the causes of cognitive overload and addressing them head-on to make learning an easy-breezy process for students.

SimpliTaught Logo

© 2023 – SimpliTaught