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Cognitive Learning Theory


July 18, 2019



Cognitive Learning Theory

Cognitive Learning Theory explains how individuals actively take in, store, retrieve, and process information during learning. Unlike traditional learning processes that focus on memorization, cognitive learning theory persuades learners to develop problem-solving skills by observing and categorizing experiences and forming their own ideas or solutions.

In this article, we unpack CLT, its history, its relevance today and how these learning theories fit into modern learning and training.

Origin & History of cognitive learning theory

Development of the CLT is credited to Educational Psychologist, Jean Piaget, and is useful in the analysis of the relationship between mental processes and factors, both internal and external. Coined in 1936, Piaget developed the CLT to suggest that knowledge is something that is actively constructed by learners based on previously-learned knowledge (Cf Active Learning Theory).

Contrary to behaviorist theory, the CLT pays attention to what the way of the learner’s mind and how it dictates behavior, rather than relying strictly on outward behaviors (or responses).

The cognitive learning process is based on individuals cognitively processing input to result in a behavior. It has been found that mental processes include a multitude of elements, including:

  • Organizing
  • Interpreting
  • Categorizing
  • Attention
  • Observing
  • Forming generalizations.

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Cognitive Learning Theory

The theory is broken down into two further cognitive theories of learning: the Cognitive Behavioral Theory (CBT) and the Social Cognitive Theory (SCT). So, what’s the difference?

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Founder of Cognitive Learning Theory

Being a Swiss developmental psychologist, Piaget’s theory of cognitive development works on the development of human intelligence. In his studies, Piaget reveals findings of the nature of knowledge and how, from this, humans are able to grasp and utilise it. Piaget concluded that it is false to say that children are like little adults, instead suggesting that children just think and communicate differently.

cognitive learning theory piaget

Cognitive Learning Theory

Cognition refers to the mental process of absorbing and retaining knowledge. Further, it encompasses the ability to understand through thought, experience and sense. Cognitive learning refers to active and long-lasting learning. This type of learning is generally very engaging, immersing learners in various processes, maximising brain productivity, leading to learning new things.

Cognitive Learning Theory Definition

Cognitive Behavioral Theory refers to the role of cognition in the behavioral pattern of individuals. By formulating self-concepts of the individual’s own accord, their behavior is directly affected. The concepts can be based on extrinsic or intrinsic factors, both positive or negative.

The Cognitive Triadis a major component of CBT, further dissecting how negative thoughts impact human behavior.

1. The Self
2. The World/Environment
2. The World/Environment

3. The Future

What are the three main cognitive learning theories?

There are three main cognitive theories. In the Dual Coding Theory approach, it is believed that we learn through two cognitive systems: verbal and nonverbal. We receive verbal and nonverbal stimuli through our sensorimotor systems (visual, auditory, taste, smell, emotion) and associate these stimuli with words or memories. The Cognitive Load Theory suggests that there is a set amount of information that can be remembered at a time and suggests ways to maximize the mind’s productivity by minimizing distracting information. In the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning, the overarching principle is that we learn more effectively from words and pictures than from words alone.

What is the main idea of cognitive learning theory?

The main assumption of cognitive theory is that thoughts are the primary determinants of emotions and behavior. The cognitive approach to learning believes that internal mental processes can be scientifically studied. It is centered on the mental processes by which the learner takes in, interprets, stores, and retrieves information. It compares the functioning of a human mind to that of a computer, in how it processes and reacts to information. Essentially, the cognitive theory believes that in order to understand behaviour, it is necessary to first understand what happens in the brain to cause such behaviour.

Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning

According to studies, the human mind process visual and auditory representation in two separate channels (known as dual coding) with different learning capacity. People learn more from a material when pictures are included, rather than from words alone.  Basing on the science of how human minds process information, Mayer’s cognitive theory of multimedia learning encourages the use of instructional media in learning. This implies a more effective approach to teaching students as they are able to understand and remember the information better.

Social Cognitive Learning Theory (SCT)

In the Social Cognitive Theory, three factors are taken into account:

  1. Behavioural factors
  2. Environmental factors (extrinsic)
  3. Personal factors (intrinsic).
Cognitive Learning Theory

Fig. 2. Three Factors of SCT (Pajares, 2002)

The combination of all three factors results in an effective learning experience. It also includes various basic concepts which manifest in the learner.

Observational Learning: This type of learning refers to the ability of individuals to gain knowledge through the observation of others’ behaviour. EdApp’s social learning features, like Discussions, enable users to learn from others.

Discussion Feature

Reproduction: Increasing the repetition of a behavior increases the chance of greater knowledge retention. This is achieved by putting the learner in a comfortable environment with relevant and easily accessible materials to learn and practice.

Self-Efficacy: This occurs when newly absorbed knowledge is put into practice.
Emotional Coping: Effective coping mechanisms in stressful situations are useful for successful learning.
Self-Regulatory Capability: This refers to the ability of individuals to control behavior in a potentially unfavorable environment.

We have explored a range of learning theories in our research, including microlearning theory, andragogy theory, and cognitive dissonance theory. All of which help in building the foundation of EdApp’s results-driven learning outcomes. Meaning, our team of experts draw on components of these theories to create the best built-in features including learning templates that cater to a diverse set of learning methodologies. The result? superior learning outcomes and record-breaking results.

What are cognitive learning strategies?

Cognitive learning strategies aim to improve a learner’s ability to process information in a deeper way. The deeper the understanding, the more the learner can transfer and apply information to new situations. Beyond surface learning, in which concepts are often limited to short-term memory only, cognitive learning strategies result in better-retained learning, meaning concepts are embedded into long-term memory.

Based on extensive clinical research, cognitive learning strategies have proven to improve learning among participants and drive better results. Specific strategies include reflecting on the learning experience, finding new solutions to existing problems, encouraging discussions about what’s being taught, and challenging learners to justify and explain their thinking. This immersive and active process teaches learners to maximise their brain’s potential, making it easier to connect new information with existing ideas.

Cognitive Learning Theory in the workplace

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