Students normally learn through spoken or written text.  Both can be permanent or transitory.  The Transient Information Effect happens when information disappears before students can process and understand it properly.  This can lead to inferior learning. This Blog will connect the Transient Information Effect with Cognitive Load Theory; give 2 examples of this effect; highlight 4 research-based facts about the Transient Information Effect; and mention some classroom implications.



Do you know what is the Transient Information Effect?



Become aware of how you can avoid the Transient Information Effect to reduce cognitive load and to enhance learning.



1. What is an ‘Effect’?

Cognitive load theorists (like Sweller) describe the strategies that can be used to prevent working memory overload as ‘effects’. Researchers of the cognitive theory of multimedia learning on the other hand refer to the strategies as ‘principles’.  In this blog I will use the concept of ‘effects’. 

2. What are examples of Effects that are linked with Cognitive Load Theory?

There are various ‘effects’ that can place increased demands on working memory when learners are learning.  These demands are directly linked with Cognitive Load Theory (CLT). CLT explains that the limitations of working memory should thus be considered when instructional materials are created, or instruction takes place.

Some of the effects that can place demands on working memory are:

Each ‘effect’ can contribute to cognitive load in a different way.

3. What is the Transient Information Effect?

The Transient Information Effect happens when information disappears before students can process and understand it properly.  This can increase the extraneous cognitive load and can lead to inferior learning.  It is seen as one of the most important ‘effects’ by Oliver Caviglioli. He states on Twitter:

“I still fail to see how the transient information effect in CLT is simply one of the effects. To me, it seems to be at the heart of overload.” 

4. What are two important examples of the Transient Information Effect?

  • Lengthy spoken explanations: If long spoken text is not broken up in segments or is without accompanying written text it can be challenging for students to grasp. The spoken text is transient and can easily be lost from memory.
  • Instructional animations: There are many resources that indicate that videos and animated instructions are not always more effective than static presentations. Animations can create extraneous cognitive load.  This is because the animated frames are often fast-paced and dynamic but lost from view once they have been presented.

5What are four research-based facts about the Transient Information Effect?

Singh et al conducted a study with Grade 10 learners. They investigated the effect of segmentation on spoken text (that is a common form of transient information) as well as the effect of segmentation on written text (that is a more permanent form of information).  The results of their study revealed the following:

  • Segmenting (breaking) text into smaller sections is good for spoken text and written text.
  • Segmentation is especially important with spoken text.
  • Written text leads to better learning than the same text in spoken format.
  • Long spoken explanatory text can have a negative effect on learning.  

6. What are some classroom implications based on the researched-based facts?

It is advisable that teachers or instructors/trainers:

  • Become more aware of the Transient Information Effect.
  • Avoid talking for long periods (even just for 2 minutes) without accompanying written text. This is because the written text is more permanent and allows the learners to re-read the information if needed.   Re-reading important information requires less working memory resources than holding spoken information for a period.
  • Deliberately break spoken and written text into clear segments/chunks. Segmentation improves learning as it reduces the transience of information.  It can also help learners to see the natural boundaries between different chunks of work.  This is very helpful for learners that struggle with reading, understanding or that have concentration difficulties. Many learners cannot see natural boundaries in long pieces of text themselves.  If teachers (instructors, parents, therapists, etc.) help learners to identify the boundaries, it reduces unnecessary cognitive load.
  • Think carefully about videos and animations that are too fast paced or have information that disappear too quickly. More static PowerPoint presentations are often very effective if planned carefully.

Final Comments

Researchers are doing research all the time to learn more about all the different ‘effects’ (like the Transient Information Effect) that can have an impact on cognitive load.  We are however all ‘researchers’ in our own context.

I can talk a lot and fast! Learners sometimes tell me “Ma’am, Just repeat that, please” or “What did you say?”  When we get these clues, we need to stop and think. We should think about what we are doing that hampers learning and what to do to enhance learning.

REAL Thinking & Learning about ‘The Transient Information Effect’  will enable you to be More Effective with Teaching and Presentations that will Optimise Learning.

Estelle Brettenny