Working memory and the design of health materials: a cognitive factors perspective

Patient Educ Couns. 2009 Mar;74(3):318-22. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2008.11.005. Epub 2009 Jan 3.


Objective: Working memory and other supportive cognitive processes involved in learning are reviewed in the context of developing patient education materials. We specifically focus on the impact of certain design factors such as text format and syntax, the inclusion of images, and the choice of modality on individuals' ability to understand and remember health information.

Methods: A selective review of relevant cognitive and learning theories is discussed with regard to their potential impact on the optimal design of health materials.

Results: Working memory is measured as an individual's capacity to hold and manipulate information in active consciousness. It is limited by necessity, and well-designed health materials can effectively minimize extraneous cognitive demands placed on individuals, making working memory resources more available to better process content-related information.

Conclusions: Further research is needed to evaluate specific design principles and identify ideal uses of print versus video-based forms of communication for conveying information.

Practice implications: The process of developing health materials should account for the cognitive demands that extrinsic factors such as modality place on patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Benchmarking
  • Choice Behavior
  • Cognition*
  • Communication
  • Humans
  • Memory*
  • Models, Educational*
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Patient Education as Topic / organization & administration*
  • Patient Selection
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Psychology, Educational
  • Research / organization & administration
  • Teaching Materials* / standards
  • Videotape Recording