Greg DeVore

By: Greg DeVore on September 5th, 2017

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Reducing Cognitive Load During Training

ScreenSteps Software

Information Overload.jpgI have what we like to call our $40,000 fridge problem. Whoever designed our kitchen (long before we purchased our current house) put the oven so close to the wall that you can only fit a small fridge next to it. The oven is situated such that in order to get a larger fridge we would have to redo the entire kitchen.

That isn't quite in the budget yet, so in the meantime we try to cram as much stuff into the little freezer space as possible. You see, we have 4 growing boys who are starting to eat more and more. Our little freezer just can't keep up. When it gets too full we run into a situation where the freezer won't quite close. Our only choice is to sacrifice one package of frozen corn or see everything in there melt.

Our minds are a lot like my freezer - limited capacity with too many things fighting for space. This quote is taken from a Stanford website about teaching principles.

The portion of the memory that remembers and processes new information on short time scales (the “short term working memory”) has a very limited capacity. Many studies have shown that anything that adds demands on working memory (“cognitive load”) that is not essential for the desired learning will reduce that learning (Mayer and Moreno 2003, Mayer et al., 2008). Thus everything presented to the learner has a cost, even artistic background graphics and peripheral interesting facts or stories (“seductive details”).

When we purchase a freezer item we know that it is going to have to take the place of something else in the freezer. We can't just add some extra frozen chicken nuggets to the cart. We have to think about what we are going to remove from the freezer to make room for the frozen chicken nuggets.

Trainers need to do the same thing if their training is going to be effective. Each bit of information you add to your training will decrease the likelihood that your employees will remember anything else. And at some point you can put so much in that you can almost guarantee that they will forget everything.

And just like I can't instantly expand my freezer space, you can't magically expand your employee's memories.

A solution - stick the chicken nuggets in the downstairs freezer

The solution is to get a downstairs freezer. We have an extra fridge downstairs where we can put things that don't fit in the upstairs fridge. This storage space isn't as convenient since we have to go down to the basement to get it, but it allows us a place to stick those frozen chicken nuggets.

So, how do you put some of your training information in a downstairs freezer? Create a knowledge base. Put the excess, non-immediate and non-essential information into a knowledge base that your employees can access later on. This allows you to focus on fewer materials in the training, increasing the likelihood that your employees will be able to both understand and remember what you teach them.

Then you just need to make your employees aware that the freezer exists and that they can find their chicken nuggets there.

An even better solution - bring the chicken nuggets to them

But that still requires your employees to go down to the basement to get their chicken nuggets. I have teenagers. Teenagers don't want to have to go to the basement to get their chicken nuggets. They want the chicken nuggets to come to them, right in the moment when they are hungry. Don't we all?

By adding contextualized delivery to your knowledge base, like you can in ScreenSteps, you can make sure your employees have the knowledge and training resources they need, right at the time when they need it.

Having easy, contextual access to your knowledge base increases your employees awareness and usage of your resources which makes it much easier for them to apply what they were taught in your trainings.


Someday we will get this kitchen redone and we will have a bigger freezer. But your employees will probably never get a bigger memory. Decrease the cognitive load of your training by decreasing the amount of information you need to teach. Stick the rest in your downstairs freezer (or knowledge base).

About Greg DeVore

CEO of ScreenSteps