Cognitive Demand Definition

How to Increase the Cognitive Demand of Lessons

It is possible to make a difference for each student in every classroom by understanding the distinction between rigour and cognitive demand. Rigor can be defined as the intricacy of one’s reasoning, whilst cognitive demand can be defined as a prolonged mental taxation.

In other words, cognitive demand is a comprehensive concept, with rigour being only one of its constituent parts.


Consider the following scenario: you launch a programme, and your computer swiftly and efficiently performs the commands contained within the coding. After that, you launch a more complex application, and your computer performs the commands with a tiny lag between each command. You come to the conclusion that the delay indicates that your computer performed a more challenging task.

Consider the following scenario, which is all-too-common and extremely frustrating: You launch a straightforward application, but because your computer is simultaneously performing other tasks in the background, you experience an unexpected delay. Perhaps you’re impatient, and you click a couple more times, resulting in the screen becoming greyed out. After a few seconds, 14 identical windows appear on the screen. So, what do you come up with as a conclusion?

According to the first example, the more sophisticated application corresponds to what is commonly meant by rigour in a classroom setting. When a teacher makes an assignment more tough, pupils find it more challenging, which results in the work taking longer to complete. The second scenario, on the other hand, draws attention to a number of issues that were overlooked in the first. When we ask a computer to run an application while the computer’s computational resources are already being taxed, we receive a false positive for rigour. When time on task (the computing delay) is the only measure of difficulty, and pupils already have a lot on their minds, teachers may underestimate the amount of work they can actually accomplish.

From then, things only get worse. We might be able to keep the computer on task for hours if we keep feeding it the same function over and over again, but this is unlikely. The results of this experiment with pupils are as follows: Assigning them more work—or, even worse, supplying them with ambiguous instructions—delays task completion and simply provides the illusion of seriousness to the situation.

Students are not computers, of course, but if we are not careful of how we communicate with them, they may behave in the same way that computers do: they may shut down completely. When we discover we’ve made a mistake, unlike computers, they may refuse to restart until we fix the problem. By redirecting our attention to cognitive demand, we can avoid falling into this trap and provide superior learning experiences for all students.


Cognitive demand is more than just rigour; it is the mental state that a person experiences when they are so fully involved with a work that they use up all of their mental resources and are completely unaware of the passage of time around them. How can teachers design classes that regularly place pupils in that mental state? What strategies may they use to do this?

As dials, the following design elements can be modified to optimise the cognitive load of assignments, resulting in students engaging fully and actively with course content rather than being overwhelmed or, worse still, underwhelmed.

Preassessment: Before you can determine what will challenge but not break your pupils, you must first determine what they know and are capable of doing. Furthermore, when children are invested in something, they are more likely to persevere through difficult situations. Interest surveys and paying close attention to what students have to say about their lives provide possibilities to tap into their natural curiosities and keep course content relevant. Using interest surveys

By first completing a student work, you can more correctly judge the level of rigour that is being applied to it by the teacher. In general, the more difficult anything is to do, the more rigorous it is. Time yourself and make reasonable extrapolations.

Explicitness of the task: Don’t confuse complicated with complex in this case. Make certain that your instructions are exact and understandable. Read your prompts aloud to your coworkers and pupils. Inquire about and act on their feedback. Student performance is hampered by ambiguity and insufficient context, which creates additional impediments that reduce student performance and, consequently, instructor expectations.

Students can’t strike targets that they can’t see, hence this is one of the success criteria. Make a visual representation of what you’re looking for by spelling it out exactly what you want. It should be included once more on the assignment page. Provide students with examples of their work and encourage them to innovate rather than copy. Better yet, provide an example and gain student buy-in by collaborating to develop the scoring criteria for the assignment.

Differentiation: When provided with the proper resources, students’ confidence and endurance increase. It is possible for kids to achieve greater levels of pride and accomplishment when they are given the opportunity to choose their own process, product, and content. Consider making a well chosen set of resources available on demand so that students may remain focused on their studies rather than hunting for what they require.

Enhance the likelihood that students will engage in productive effort by openly reminding them that the experience of struggle is the sense of learning. Metacognition Display a troubleshooting guide publicly in your classroom so that students are reminded of what to do if they become stuck in a problem. Increase the difficulty by offering a backchannel, such as Padlet, where students can write in real time, allowing them to keep moving while remaining confident that their question will be answered soon.

Students should have uninterrupted processing and application time. Give them ample time to process and ask questions, but once they are set to work, allow them to work uninterrupted. If you come up with something that needs to be communicated, place it somewhere in the room to remind yourself of it. They’ll notice if it’s truly necessary, which is unlikely. Tip: Experiment with different types of background music to see if it helps pupils stay focused on their task.

What is the best way to tell when you’ve got everything under control? The dials for cognitive demand do not come pre-programmed with any values. If, on the other hand, you gather and analyse data on student learning before fiddling with the dials, you should see an increase in cognitive demand almost immediately. And this will be beneficial to all of your students as a result.