Cognitive Load Theory and Human Movement: Towards an Integrated Model of Working Memory

  • Stoo SeppEmail author
  • Steven J. Howard
  • Sharon Tindall-Ford
  • Shirley Agostinho
  • Fred Paas


Cognitive load theory (CLT) applies what is known about human cognitive architecture to the study of learning and instruction, to generate insights into the characteristics and conditions of effective instruction and learning. Recent developments in CLT suggest that the human motor system plays an important role in cognition and learning; however, it is unclear whether models of working memory (WM) that are typically espoused by CLT researchers can reconcile these novel findings. For instance, often-cited WM models envision separate information processing systems—such as Baddeley and Hitch’s (1974) multicomponent model of WM—as a means to interpret modality-specific findings, although possible interactions with the human motor system remain under-explained. In this article, we examine the viability of these models to theoretically integrate recent research findings regarding the human motor system, as well as their ability to explain established CLT effects and other findings. We argue, it is important to explore alternate models of WM that focus on a single and integrated control of attention system that is applied to visual, phonological, embodied, and other sensory and nonsensory information. An integrated model such as this may better account for individual differences in experience and expertise and, parsimoniously, explain both recent and historical CLT findings across domains. To advance this aim, we propose an integrated model of WM that envisions a common and finite attentional resource that can be distributed across multiple modalities. How attention is mobilized and distributed across domains is interdependent, co-reinforcing, and ever-changing based on learners’ prior experience and their immediate cognitive demands. As a consequence, the distribution of attentional focus and WM resources will vary across individuals and tasks, depending on the nature of the specific task being performed; the neurological, developmental, and experiential abilities of the individual; and the current availability of internal and external cognitive resources.


Cognitive load theory Working memory model Attention Human movement Gesturing Learning 



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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Early Start and School of EducationUniversity of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Psychology, Education, and Child StudiesErasmus University RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands

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