Practising what we preach: using cognitive load theory for workshop design and evaluation.

Naismith LM, Haji FA, Sibbald M, Cheung JJ, Tavares W, Cavalcanti RB


Theory-based instructional design is a top priority in medical education. The goal of this Show and Tell article is to present our theory-driven approach to the design of instruction for clinical educators. We adopted cognitive load theory as a framework to design and evaluate a series of professional development workshops that were delivered at local, national and international academic conferences in 2014. We used two rating scales to measure participants' cognitive load. Participants also provided narrative comments as to how the workshops could be improved. Cognitive load ratings from 59 participants suggested that the workshop design optimized learning by managing complexity for different levels of learners (intrinsic load), stimulating cognitive processing for long-term memory storage (germane load), and minimizing irrelevant distracters (extraneous load). Narrative comments could also be classified as representing intrinsic, extraneous, or germane load, which provided specific directions for ongoing quality improvement. These results demonstrate that a cognitive load theory approach to workshop design and evaluation is feasible and useful in the context of medical education.