The roles of working memory and cognitive load in geoscience learning

Allison J. Jaeger, Thomas F. Shipley, Stephen J. Reynolds

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Working memory is a cognitive system that allows for the simultaneous storage and processing of active information. While working memory has been implicated as an important element for success in many science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, its specific role in geoscience learning is not fully understood. The major goal of this article is to examine the potential role that working memory plays in successful geoscience learning. We start by reviewing two popular approaches to studying working memory in science learning—the individual differences approach and the cognitive load approach—and consider how these two approaches have been utilized in geosciences education research. Next, we highlight examples of various activities and curricular materials that have been used in geoscience classrooms in an effort to improve student learning and offload working memory resources, including using concept sketches and providing varying levels of scaffolding. We outline recommendations about how to structure geoscience classrooms and labs to maximize student learning and suggest potential avenues for future research aimed at investigating the role of working memory in geoscience learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)506-518
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Geoscience Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • Cognitive load
  • Geoscience education
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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