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Learn to learn: avoiding mental overload

If we are to learn effectively, we need to guard against cognitive strain

Overload

If working memory is given too much information to hold, it becomes difficult for the brain to figure things out. This relates to “cognitive load”, that is the amount of mental effort that the working memory is making.

Basically, your working memory can only hold so much in mind at once.

Watch the below video before reading on.

As we found out in chapter 10, brain links can help us to avoid becoming overloaded. This is because working memory can reach into long-term memory to grab the brain links that have been set up previously.

These previously created sets of brain links are like little mental helpers: they free up working memory for other, more difficult tasks.


This article is part of a series by Professor Barbara Oakley called Learning How To Learn (L2L). A list of all the chapters will be available at this link from 16 April.


But we need to be wary of other aspects that impact working memory.  

Links and learning

Let's go back to the attentional octopus analogy. Distraction makes things more difficult for the attentional octopus. If students are distracted, their working memories can’t do their jobs as well because the octopuses have fewer arms to hold on to things.

Then there’s another problem the attentional octopus can encounter. That’s when students keep switching their attention. 

Attention switching makes the octopus tired.

Distraction and interruption

So, it’s important for students to avoid distractions and interruptions when they are focusing on their studies. It drains part of the brain’s learning power.

Unfortunately, these two things are difficult to avoid: before students create sets of brain links, what they are learning can seem difficult and not very fun. In other words, sometimes students may not enjoy what they are learning when they are still in the early stages.

This article is part of a series by Professor Barbara Oakley called Learning How To Learn (L2L). A list of all the chapters will be available at this link from 16 April.

Notes by Professor Barbara Oakley and ESIC Business and Marketing School. Videos reproduced with kind permission of the Arizona State University and Professor Barbara Oakley.

For more information, see Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School Without Spending All Your Time Studying; A Guide for Kids and Teens.

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