Cognitive Load and Universal Design for Learning

cog load

Cognitive Load and Universal Design for Learning(UDL) are both very important principles. When these two principles are put together it can optimize learning. For a little bit of background knowledge, cognitive load is the amount of information working memory can manage at one time. UDL is when teachers structure their classroom in a way that accommodates to multiple different learners.

Cognitive load has three essential parts: intrinsic load, extraneous load, and germane load. When teachers are keeping cognitive load in mind they are trying to manage intrinsic load (the load that comes with the complexity of the new material), extraneous load (information that is unneeded and distracts from learning), and germane load (happens when the lesson is designed well and helps facilitate learning). For some ideas on how to reduce cognitive load click here.

When thinking about cognitive load, using UDL will be a great tool to help all of the components above. When using UDL teachers are trying to facilitate learning to all different types of learners and all different types of disabilities. This sort of design accommodates to most, if not all, learners. That is why putting cognitive load and UDL together is great for the classroom.

When putting these two aspects together intrinsic load will be managed. With UDL there are different ways information is portrayed and learners can choose which way they wish to receive it. This way students can choose which direction is less complex for them. Students will have more time for discovery and other aspects because they are not caught up on trying to figure out one uniform delivery of information. This will reduce the amount of intrinsic load children have to take on.

UDL will also help with extraneous load. One of the main aspects of UDL is representation. When representation is offered in the class the student can choose which way they wish to have the information given to them. Many times teachers will try to provide information on more than one platform at once to accommodate to several learners. Though this causes too much to be going on at once in the class and will hinder learners. On the other hand when students choose which way they want to receive information it eliminates extra information they do not need. Now they are able to focus on what is important in front of them.

UDL also would have a large effect of germane load. Another big aspect of UDL is engagement. In order to facilitate engagement, the lesson must be well planned out. Germane load is optimized when the lesson is well planned and engaging. In order for the UDL to work everything must be thoroughly planned out. If the lesson is not well planned multiple types of learners will not be accounted for and UDL will not serve its purpose. Also with UDL students are able to have a choice in the classroom. This way students are able to pick a variety of things that interest them. This will encourage intrinsic motivation which will lead to an increase in germane load.

2.2 Teachers understand and use content-specific instructional strategies. When using UDL teacher must have a thorough understanding of the instructional strategies being used. The teacher uses the uses specific strategies to accommodate to all learners and understands them in order to implement them properly. 

Gutierrez, Karla. “Managing Cognitive Load Is a Delicate Act of Balance.” SHIFT ELearning Blog, SHIFT ELearning, 27 Jan. 2015,

Manktelow, Jame, et al. “Cognitive Load Theory: Making Learning More Effective.” Learning Skills From, Mind Tools Ltd, 1 Jan. 2014,

Morin, Amanda. “Universal Design for Learning: What It Is and How It Works.”, UNDERSTOOD.ORG USA LLC,


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