Cognitive Load Theory

I have been sitting through a number of presentations the last days (and many more will follow…), and came to think about some keypoints from the Cognitive Load Theory:

  • Working memory is only limited when you’re learning new information. Once information is in long-term memory, it can be brought back to working memory in very large amounts.
  • In a classroom situation, only limited material is going to be retained, unless notes are taken or handed out.
  • Power-point presentations can backfire if the information on the screen is the same as that which is verbalized, because the audience’s attention will be split between the two.

I particularly find the last point to be important. Too many presenters are reading through their slides, something which is both annoying and tiresome. It is strange that university education is focusing so little on presentation technique. It doesn’t matter how good your research is if you can’t present it in a clear and concise way. A great resource and inspiration for issues on presentations can be found in the blog over at

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Alexander Refsum Jensenius is a music researcher and research musician living in Oslo, Norway.