Cognitive load theory, the transient information effect and e-learning

Anna Wong, Wayne Leahy, Nadine Marcus, John Sweller*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    137 Citations (Scopus)


    When using modern educational technology, some forms of instruction are inherently transient in that previous information usually disappears to be replaced by current information. Instructional animations and spoken text provide examples. The effects of transience due to the use of animation-based instructions (Experiment 1) and spoken information under audio-visual conditions (Experiment 2) were explored in a cognitive load theory framework. It was hypothesized that for transient information presented in short sections, animations would be superior to static graphics, due to our innate ability to learn by observing. For transient information in long sections, animations should lose their superiority over static graphics, due to working memory overload associated with large amounts of transient information. Similarly, the modality effect under which audio-visual information is superior to visual only information should be obtainable using short segments but disappear or reverse using longer segments due to the working memory consequences of long, transient, auditory information. Results supported the hypotheses. The use of educational technology that results in the transformation of permanent into transitory information needs to be carefully assessed.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)449-457
    Number of pages9
    JournalLearning and Instruction
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


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