Cognitive load theory and the acquisition of complex cognitive skills in the elderly: Towards an integrative framework

P.W.M. van Gerven*, F.G.W.C. Paas, J.J.G. van Merriënboer, H.G. Schmidt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The purpose of this article is to explore the advantages of instructional formats based on cognitive load theory for elderly learners engaged in the acquisition of complex cognitive skills. A gl eat body of research has demonstrated that cognitive aging is accompanied by a reduction of working-memory capacity, a general slowing of mental processes, and a decline of the ability to repress irrelevant information. The core idea of cognitive load theory is that working-memory capacity is limited and should therefore be managed with great care and discretion Cognitive load theory claims that this can be achieved by minimizing the level of extraneous cognitive load, which is the portion of load that does not contribute to schema acquisition, and by maximizing the level of germane cognitive load, which directly contributes to the construction of cognitive schemata. Since instructions based on cognitive load theory deal with cognitive limitations, in that they lead to an efficient use of the available resources, it was hypothesized that they are especially effective when elderly people are involved. This idea was analyzed by means of a framework merging cognitive load theory with the aforementioned research findingss concerning cognitive aging. It was concluded that cognitive load theory, enabling elderly people to acquire new complex skills, can be regarded as an essential guide for educational gerontology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-521
JournalEducational Gerontology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2000

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