Help, I can’t learn anymore. My brain is full.

Blog / News | 23-11-23

Overcoming cognitive overload in learning.

In our recent blog post, we delved into the reasons behind the struggles with maintaining focus in today’s fast-paced world. The cause? Cognitive overload. This state of mental exhaustion occurs when our minds are overwhelmed by the constant flow of information, pushing our working memory to its limits. The consequences are significant – reduced information retention, diminished problem-solving abilities, and a decline in critical thinking and analysis. It’s an alarming issue that demands our attention. So, what can we do?

​​Understanding the factors contributing to cognitive overload

To tackle cognitive overload effectively, we must first understand the contributing factors. The modern world inundates us with an unprecedented amount of information from various apps, and our multitasking-centric lifestyles make matters worse. Add to that the necessity of mastering new and complex technologies, the pressure to respond instantly on social media, and the huge amount of information that most people need to process in the workplace. As a result, you have a perfect storm for cognitive overload.

The human brain’s working memory has a limited capacity for holding and processing information. Cognitive overload then arises when either the volume of information or the cognitive demands exceed the brain’s capacity to handle them. Understanding this connection between cognitive overload and working memory is crucial, particularly for instructional designers seeking to create effective learning experiences in today’s context.

Rethinking learning

Given the different circumstances faced by today’s learners compared to those from a few decades ago, why are we still offering them teaching methods that haven’t evolved in 30 years? It’s time to rethink how we approach learning and to face the issue of cognitive overload. 

The fields of cognitive psychology and neuroscience have offered evidence-based strategies to manage and mitigate cognitive overload’s negative effects. Here’s a concise breakdown:


  1. Chunk information: present information in manageable chunks that align with how the brain processes and retains information effectively.
  2. Prioritize key information: emphasize the most critical and relevant information to prevent overwhelming learners with unnecessary details.
  3. Incorporate active learning: engage learners with interactive and hands-on activities to enhance comprehension and retention.
  4. Utilize visual aids and media: enhance learning and reduce cognitive load by using visual aids, diagrams, and multimedia leveraging the brain’s visual processing system.
  5. Instruction scaffolding: provide structured guidance and support during learning tasks, known as scaffolding. Gradually introduce complex tasks, offering support until learners can perform independently.
  6. Mindfulness and stress reduction: ensure training is not given during busy periods or delegate tasks to allow full focus. Begin training with a mindfulness exercise to reduce stress, enhancing cognitive functions like attention and memory.
  7. Spaced repetition and retrieval practice: enhance long-term retention by using spaced repetition and retrieval practice techniques, where learners review and recall information at increasing intervals.
Designing effective learning programs

By understanding the root causes of cognitive overload and applying these remedies, we can design effective learning programs that cater to individuals navigating today’s information-saturated world. Let’s move away from traditional learning methods and embrace strategies that incorporate these proven learning tactics. Adaptive learning, performance support, and other efficient methods should be the basis of your learning strategy. It’s time to empower modern learners for success in the digital age.