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Cognitive Load

Lockheed aeronautical engineer Kelly Johnson came up with the KISS design principle in 1960: "Keep it simple, stupid." KISS is the motto for teaching in the U.S. Navy and Air Force, and it should be your motto, too.

Preceptors and Subject Matter Experts combine their regular jobs with teaching. It is tempting for an expert to pack as much info into the shortest lesson possible, with complex schematics and dense text. Here is why you should refrain from that impulse:

  • Demanding that your students learn more than 5 to 7 items in one session exceeds the capacity of their working memory. 
  • Their brains will become inefficient from information overload, resulting in reduced comprehension, decision-making, and recall. 
  • This design flaw will impact the willingness of your students to learn by causing them frustration and anxiety.
  • Consequently, your students may be more likely not to finish your course, and may leave you with a bad review.

Avoid jargon. Remember that President John F. Kennedy kept his speeches at a Grade 8 level to make them accessible, yet he was considered a great orator. Grade 8 is the same reading level of most newspapers. It can be understood by most 13-year-olds and speakers of other languages in North American workplaces. This blog is written at at Grade 8 level. Clarity and simplicity reduce the cognitive load in your lessons. Many word processing programs have a grade level feature. If you are unsure of the grade level of your writing, analyze its readability with the free Readability Text Tool from WebFX at

Reduce the visual clutter. Too many colors, links, animations, pop-ups, and choices can cause "analysis paralysis" in your students. Use plenty of white space and a font that will make your lesson easy to scan. Verdana is the font created for the Web. Times New Roman makes long print passages easy to digest. Keep the layout consistent on each page, so your students know where to find things easily. Make the layout familiar to switch on your students' long-term memory, and reduce their cognitive load. For free templates and examples of best practise, visit

Keep the lesson short. Three to five minutes for one lesson is ideal. Ten minutes is probably the maximum your students can endure comfortably. Use words and pictures simultaneously. Encourage the students to move around to prevent boredom. Promote discussions to keep them engaged.

Provide assistance (scaffolding). Examples are check-lists, a glossary, maps, diagrams, case studies, personas, and worked examples. Ask your students if they understand at regular intervals. 

A proper user experience is findable, accessible, usable, desirable, useful, credible, and valuable.
User experience diagram BY Paul Veugen, 6 March 2009. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


  1. Jackson, S. A., Kleitman, S., & Aidman, E. (2014). Low Cognitive Load and Reduced Arousal Impede Practice Effects on Executive Functioning, Metacognitive Confidence and Decision Making. PLoS ONE, 9(12), e115689. Retrieved November 12, 2019, from
  2. Cryer, A. B. (2009). Cognitive Load Explained. Everything Explained Today. Retrieved November 12, 2019, from
  3. Enser, M. (2019, October 10). How Useful Is Cognitive Load Theory For Teachers? Tes. Retrieved November 12, 2019, from
  4. Malamed, C. (2011, March 29). What Is Cognitive Load? The ELearning Coach. Retrieved November 12, 2019, from