This research takes the stance that identifying a previously unseen design example is a problem-solving activity that novice learners, particularly those who lack visual literacy skills, find extremely difficult. Learning in design history often involves presenting students, after they have been given a lecture, with appreciation activities of design examples. Such activities often do not take into account the limited capacity of working memory in that multiple examples of previously unseen material is shown and students are required to answer open-ended questions on a design’s visual characteristics without any teacher instruction until students provide an appropriate answer. According to Schnotz (2002), semantic processing is required in order for the viewer to comprehend a picture as opposed to merely perceiving it. Koroscik, Short, Stavropoulos and Fortin (1992) recommended that educators should not expect students to discover meaningful or accurate ideas about an artwork without teacher direction and input. These conclusions can also be applied to the teaching of design history. This research discusses the application of cognitive load theory, a theory usually applied to the teaching of maths and science, and theories of visual literacy to provide a theoretical underpinning for supporting techniques to improve students’ ability to recognise designers’ styles in higher education. Specifically it is suggested, that providing well-designed worked examples would be a more effective instructional method for promoting novice learning.