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Using Cognitive Load Theory to Improve Teaching in the Clinical Workplace.



Cognitive load theory (CLT) views working memory as the primary bottleneck for learning, as it is limited in both capacity and retention. CLT delineates three types of activities that impose on working memory: intrinsic load, germane load, and extraneous load. These three constructs have practical ramifications for direct teaching, learning environments, and curricular design. CLT could help educators across health professions improve quality of teaching, especially in demanding and unpredictable workplace environments. However, few educational resources exist to familiarize clinical workplace educators with CLT.


We developed a 2-hour workshop focused on CLT's core concepts and practical applications, targeted at health professions' workplace educators. It featured large-group, small-group, and individual reflective activities. An end-of-workshop survey was administered, and a follow-up survey was sent to participants 2 months after the workshop.


A total of 134 educators attended the first two offerings of the workshop in two different states. Participants considered CLT as relevant to a variety of workplace teaching settings and activities. Participants' self-assessed familiarity with CLT on a 0-100 scale increased from a mean of 36 (SD = 26) before the workshop to 59 (SD = 17) after the workshop. At follow-up, participants scored an average of 85% on content knowledge questions. Approximately half of respondents to the follow-up survey stated they had made or planned to make specific changes to their workplace teaching leveraging tenets of CLT.


The workshop conveyed CLT concepts and primed participants to independently craft CLT-based interventions for their own teaching practices.

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