Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning

pp 590-593

Cognitive Efficiency

  • Bobby HoffmanAffiliated withDepartment of Educational Studies, University of Central Florida
  • , Gregory SchrawAffiliated withDepartment of Educational Psychology, University of Nevada-Las Vegas Email author 
  • , Matthew T. McCruddenAffiliated withSchool of Educational Psychology and Pedagogy, Victoria University


Mental efficiency; Optimal thinking; Problem-solving efficiency


Cognitive efficiency (CE) is a multifaceted construct that describes the ability to reach learning, problem solving, or instructional goals through optimal use of mental resources. CE can be defined as optimal effort needed to perform a task, optimal performance on a task, or as the relationship between maximum performances on a task while exerting minimum effort (Hoffman and Schraw 2010).

In general, all views construe CE as the tradeoff between benefits such as increases in the rate, amount, or conceptual clarity of knowledge versus costs such as time, effort, or the cognitive resources expended to complete a task. Three main criteria influence the understanding and utility of CE: the discipline of application, measurement of the construct, and individual differences among learners.

Theoretical Background

Beginning in the late nineteenth century, experimental and beha ...

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