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Intrinsic cognitive load is the inherent level of difficulty associated with instructional materials.

The term "Intrinsic cognitive load" was first described by Chandler and Sweller (1991). According to Chandler and Sweller, all instruction has an inherent difficulty associated with it (e.g., the calculation of 2 + 2, versus solving a differential equation ). This inherent difficulty may not be altered by an instructor.

However instructional may be redesigned so complex cognitive tasks (large complex schemas) may be broken into individual "subschemas" that may be taught in isolation. Instructional designers can then develop later lessons that bring that material back together to describe it as a combined whole (Clark, Nguyen, and Sweller, 2006).

See alsoEdit


  • Chandler, P. & Sweller, J. (1991). Cognitive Load Theory and the Format of Instruction. Cognition and Instruction 8 (4): 293-332.
  • Clark, R., Nguyen, F., and Sweller, J. (2006). Efficiency in Learning: Evidence-Based Guidelines to Manage Cognitive Load, San Francisco: Pfeiffer. ISBN 0-7879-7728-4.
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