The field of medical education has adopted a wide variety of theories from other fields. A fairly recent example is cognitive load theory, which originated in educational psychology. Several empirical studies inspired by cognitive load theory and reviews of practical implications of cognitive load theory have contributed to guidelines for the design of medical education. Simultaneously, several research groups have developed instruments for the measurement of cognitive load in a medical education context. These developments notwithstanding, obtaining evidence for different types of cognitive load remains an important challenge. Therefore, the aim of this article is twofold: to provide medical educators with three key guidelines for the design of instruction and assessment and to discuss several fundamental issues in the remaining challenges presented by different types of cognitive load. The guidelines revolve around minimizing cognitive activity that does not contribute to learning, working with specific learning goals in mind, and appreciating the multifaceted relation between learning and assessment. Key issues around the types of cognitive load include the context in which learning occurs, the continued use of single-item mental effort ratings, and the timing of cognitive load and learning outcome measurements.
- Cognitive load theory