Avoiding cognitive overload


Stella Collins, Stellar Learning Last Published  28 April 2015

Our brains have limited capacity to process information. Try to hold a new phone number in mind whilst also recalling the last four prime ministers and you’ll probably fail – that’s your working memory being overloaded.

When people are exposed to lots of information they may be able to physically read it or listen to it but it’s unlikely they will process it all successfully, memorise it and be able to use it in the long term. Processing, learning and memorising information uses significant resources, which are limited; literally your brain runs out of energy when you have to learn significant new amounts of information.

Feeling tired and drained does not engage learners so this tool will help you be realistic about how much information to share and offers ideas for making the information you do provide easier to process.

Who this tool is for:
This tool is for trainers, presenters and learning designers who have information to share and need to engage people in effective learning activities to learn that information.

This tool will help you:
  • structure information and training sessions to avoid cognitive overload 
  • educate others about why learning information is different to providing information to learn.

Unit: Enhancing Participant Engagement in the Learning Process (5PEL)

This tool maps to the following learning outcomes:
  • Outline the neuroscience most pertinent to learner engagement.
  • Provide examples of learning and development practice underpinned by psychology and neuroscience.