Ensuring effective employee training using the Cognitive Load Theory

The cognitive load theory has been gaining traction as an effective instructional design theory in the past few years, especially with the advent of e-learning.

Have you ever been in a training program where the content was so complex that it was hard to remember a thing? Ensuring effective employee training using the Cognitive Load Theory Or, maybe the trainer went through the course so quickly that you could not even grasp the knowledge effectively?  Such poorly designed learning and development programs can do more harm than good to the professional growth of your employees as well as your organization as a whole. It can lead to a low percentage of completion for training courses, disengaged employees and lower levels of productivity. Reports have shown that ineffective training can result into a staggering loss of $13.5 million per year, per 1000 employees.

It’s just another reason for businesses to invest in quality, efficient and innovative training & development solutions to ensure the advancement of both their employees as well as their organizations. This is where the cognitive load theory comes into play.


What is the Cognitive Load Theory?

The Cognitive Load Theory can be described as an instructional design theory that uses the science of how the human brain processes information to inform the design of learning materials so they are easy to understand and memorize.

This Theory was developed by John Sweller. He published a paper on the subject in the journal Cognitive Science in 1988. Cognitive load is the amount of information that the working memory can hold at one time. In his theory, John Sweller highlighted that since the working memory has limited capacity, instructional methods should avoid overloading it with additional activities that don’t directly contribute to the learning.

For example: when playing football, your sensory memory discards information about people watching the game or any noises coming from the surroundings and it focuses only on the ball.

In other words, our short term memory or working memory can only retain a limited volume of information simultaneously, not a huge amount of data. The more information that is delivered at once, the more likely that the learners will not actually learn what is being taught nor will they be able to call upon that information for later use.


How effective is the cognitive load theory in training programs?

Based on the cognitive load theory, Procurement and Supply Chain Academy have put in place an innovative way of e-learning which allows learners to experience real-life situations and encourages them to actively apply their knowledge in their day-to-day jobs. The courses are delivered through scenario-based videos which can be accessed by employees in just one click, anywhere and anytime. These videos are highly relatable to employees. The courses are very engaging and motivate employees to be more productive. They are prepared to face challenging situations which may arise in their jobs and therefore they know in advance how to react to such circumstances.

Studies have proven that videos help both scale training efforts and reduce cognitive overload. Hence, learners are more likely to remember the knowledge as well as apply the skills. This leads to higher productivity and profitability. Various companies have recognized the effectiveness of such training which involves the cognitive load theory.IOMA suggests that on average, corporations can save between 50% and 70% when they shift classroom-based training to eLearning. Companies such as Ernst and Young reduced its costs by 35% and reduced its training time by about 52% by investing in eLearning. Dow Chemical reduced its training costs to just $11 per learner with online training, down from $95 per learner with traditional classrooms. Furthermore, Microsoft has reported that a move to video-based training has helped the organization reduce costs by $303 per person, from $320 to just $17.

Video training definitely leads to cost reduction and also make sharing training on-demand anytime anywhere possible. One major advantage is that video-enabled training can also help organizations to minimize the irrelevant cognitive loads created by traditional instructional materials and better optimize their employees’ abilities to focus on the subject at hand.

The versatility and flexibility of scenario-based video as a teaching tool helps put employees in control of their learning experiences. And because video can be watched and re-watched anytime, employees can choose when the lesson will best fit into their schedule; improving focus by minimizing the likelihood of disruption. Therefore, through a training optimized by the cognitive load theory, employees are able to retain the important knowledge and skills which are directly related to their jobs.



Organizations invest millions every year in learning and development programs; hence, they have to choose their solutions wisely. Training based on the cognitive load theory is backed by science and therefore has a higher success rate. Such training not only allows companies to progress but it also helps to retain the best talents and ensure higher productivity.

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