Incorporating cognitive load theory into curriculum design for the teaching of novel clinical skills in Australian osteopathy students




Cognition, Health education, Neurological examination


Introduction: Cognitive load theory provides a theoretical framework through which the teaching of skills to health students can be optimised. The aim of this study was to evaluate the intrinsic and extraneous cognitive load of first-year osteopathy students as they learn a psychomotor-based clinical skill (neurological examination of the upper limb).

Methods: First-year osteopathy students (n = 78) at an Australian university completed an 8-item cognitive load survey at the end of the session where they were taught, and conducted, their first hands-on assessment task (neurological examination of the upper limb). The task was completed in a learning environment designed with low-medium complexity, medium fidelity and high levels of instructional support for learners.

Results: Intrinsic and extraneous load data indicate varied levels of cognitive demand of the task across the cohort. On average, intrinsic load made up three quarters of the total cognitive load associated with this task.

Conclusion: Understanding and utilising cognitive load theory in the design of lesson plans may provide improved opportunity to optimise student learning of novel clinical skills. Extraneous load was much lower than intrinsic load, suggesting the learning environment was fit for purpose for these learners.


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How to Cite

McLaughlin, P., Vaughan, B., Tripodi, N., & Kelly, K. (2023). Incorporating cognitive load theory into curriculum design for the teaching of novel clinical skills in Australian osteopathy students. Focus on Health Professional Education: A Multi-Professional Journal, 24(3), 68–75.



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