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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: June 2012

2 - Implications of Cognitive Load Theory for Multimedia Learning



Humans have evolved with a working memory that has no logical central executive available when required to organise novel information. Consequently, failing instruction, we must randomly propose organisational combinations and test them for effectiveness. This procedure is only possible with a very limited number of elements and as a consequence, working memory is severely limited when dealing with novel information. In contrast, familiar, organised information previously stored in long-term memory can act as a central executive and eliminate the need for working memory limitations. These structures are central to cognitive load theory. They suggest that instruction should act as substitute for the missing central executive when dealing with novel information and that factor, in turn, determines multimedia instructional principles.


Good instructional design is driven by our knowledge of human cognitive structures and the manner in which those structures are organised into a cognitive architecture. Without knowledge of relevant aspects of human cognitive architecture such as the characteristics of and intricate relations between working memory and long-term memory, the effectiveness of instructional design is likely to be random. Cognitive load theory has been one of the theories used to integrate our knowledge of human cognitive structures and instructional design principles. This chapter is concerned with the elements of that theory and its general implications for multimedia learning, specifically, words presented in spoken or written form along with pictures or diagrams.

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