Internet Explorer doesn’t work well with our website. We recommend using a different browser like Google Chrome.

In the 1920s, Swiss educational psychologist, Jean Piaget, worked at the Binet Institute where he was responsible for translating English intelligence questions to French. During his time at Binet Institute, Piaget became enamored with the reason some children got logical questions wrong, and others got them right.

At the time, behaviorism was the prevailing theory for this; psychologists judged the ability of children to answer these questions from their interactions with their external environments. 

In 1936, Piaget argued for a different theory — he posited that the internal workings of a child’s brain determine how they perform with logical questions.  Piaget’s assumptions on intelligence were: 

  • Children’s thinking develops in stages, and their behaviors change to reflect these mental developments.
  • Children’s intelligence differs from adults’ quality-wise (not quantity). This is because children view the world differently than adults. 
  • Children don’t just interact with the world; they also store information about the world mentally, and this influences how they tackle questions that involve logical thinking

Jean Piaget termed his line of thinking as “cognitive learning theory”. Over the years, educators worldwide have used cognitive learning strategies to empower their students to become better learners. 

Read on to find out: 

What is Cognitive Learning?

The term ‘cognitive learning’ is derived from cognition, which refers to the mental process of absorbing and retaining information through senses, thought, and experience. Cognitive learning, in itself, is a style of learning that involves effectively maximizing your brain’s potential. 

Think back to your time in high school. Was there a subject that you just gravitated toward? One you found easy to understand because it just clicked for you? How about a concept or subject that you found difficult to understand no matter how hard you tried? 

According to Piaget’s cognitive learning theory, your ability to understand — or not understand — a certain topic depends on how your brain mentally processes information related to that topic. But with cognitive learning strategies, you’ll be able to tackle topics that are ‘naturally’ difficult for you to understand. This is because these strategies make it easier to make connections between new information and pre-existing ideas, which improves your ability to retain and remember information. 

Today, cognitive learning theory is broken into two categories: 

  • Social cognitive theory: This is the idea that the things people see around them and the behaviors they observe impact how their behavior and how quickly their brains develop cognitively. For example, a student’s behavior can be affected when they observe their teachers and peers. That’s why educators are encouraged to lead by example. 
  • Cognitive behavioral theory: This is the idea that how a person thinks, feels, and behaves are all connected, and it can affect their ability to learn. For example, if a student believes they’re naturally not good at Physics and that they won’t understand it no matter how it’s explained, they’ll likely feel frustrated and angry during a Physics lesson — which leads to poor performance. 

Cognitive learning strategies aim to break down barriers to learning and offer alternative (and more personalized) ways for students to learn. Mastering the elements will make you a better (and faster) learner and will increase your chances of excelling at whatever you put your mind to. 

What are the components of Cognitive Learning?

As an individual who wants to learn a skill (or two), here are some important components of cognitive learning you should know: 

  1. Comprehension

For cognitive learning strategies to work, you need to understand why you’re learning the topic in the first place. So before you take an online course (or lesson), clearly define what you’ll gain if you learn that topic. 

  1. Memory 

Cramming information in order to memorize it is an ineffective way of learning, and cognitive learning practices discourage it. With cognitive learning, your goal is to get a deep understanding of the topic so that you can relate new ideas to previous information. 

  1. Application 

Cognitive learning strategies encourage you to think about the course/lesson material and figure out ways to apply it to real-life situations. Doing so helps you develop advanced critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and leadership traits that you can use at school and in the workplace.  

What’s the difference between cognitivism and constructivism?

Jean Piaget’s work in cognitive development comprised two distinct ideas: cognitivism and constructivism. These two ideas are somewhat related in that they both focus on the mental processes that are involved in learning, as opposed to only externally observable behavior. But cognitivism and constructivism are different. 

With cognitivism, people are treated as beings that can mentally analyze and evaluate new information without having to actively participate in it. So rather than just responding to external stimuli and internalizing them through conditioning, learners can passively assess the information and store it. 

A great example of cognitivist learning is lectures. With lectures, all learners have to do is sit in their chairs (or behind their computers) and listen to the teacher explaining certain concepts. Although note-taking is great, the learners can passively process the information the teacher is passing across to them without taking notes. 

Constructivism, on the other hand, perpetuates the idea that people process and interpret new information based on prior knowledge and experience. In other words, people actively make their own knowledge, which shapes their outlook on reality. Constructivists believe that, for new knowledge to stick, learners have to actively participate in the learning process. 

So instead of lectures, constructivist teachers are more in favor of organizing interactive group activities and giving students problems to solve, experiments to conduct, and real-life situations to apply their knowledge to. 

Examples of cognitive learning

There are different types of cognitive learning. Below are 10 of them. 

  1. Implicit learning

Have you ever learned something new without actually meaning to? If yes, then you’ve experienced implicit learning. With implicit learning, you’re usually not aware of the entire learning process until you suddenly realize that you possess a new ability/knowledge that you didn’t have before. 

Examples of things you can learn implicitly include walking, talking, and even typing fast without looking at your keyboard.  

  1. Explicit learning

Explicit learning happens when you intentionally seek knowledge. Unlike implicit learning, explicit learning requires you to continually pay attention and put in the time to be proficient at what you’re learning. Examples of explicit learning include taking an online course to learn content marketing or going back to college to get a new degree.

  1. Collaborative or cooperative learning

As the name implies, collaborative learning happens when you learn as a group or team. Learning in groups — whether in a traditional classroom or through a cohort-based course — helps bring out the best skills and improves the interpersonal skills of each individual. 

This type of learning comprises four components, including:

  • Individual responsibility: Although people are working together in a group, each person should have duties they are personally responsible for.
  • Simultaneous interaction: All members of the group should be able to have discussions about the topic they’re learning and how they’re each applying their knowledge.
  • Positive interdependence: While each person in the group should have their own unique responsibility, they should also be able to get help from one another when they need it.
  • Equal participation: In collaborative learning, every member of the group is equal. No one holds more status or ranks above other members.
  1. Discovery learning

When you actively seek new knowledge by doing research on new concepts, ideas, or topics, you’re engaging in discovery learning. For example, if you write an article and you need to use a tool like Hemingway Editor to edit and proofread, you’ll end up learning more about the editing tool itself through discovery. 

  1. Meaningful learning 

Meaningful learning happens when a person can relate new information to past experiences. This often leads to transferable skills that can be applied in other areas of life, including school and work. An example of meaningful learning is when you work in marketing and you take a marketing strategy course to deepen your understanding of the topic.

  1. Emotional learning 

Emotional learning involves people learning how to control their emotions, understand other people’s emotions, and improve their emotional intelligence. No matter what you do for work, high emotional intelligence plays an important role in how you exhibit empathy, communicate with others, and handle interpersonal and professional relationships.

For example, emotional learning can help you interact favorably with both introverts and extroverts, regardless of the situations you’re in. And if you work in customer service, knowing how to handle your emotions and understand other people’s feelings will help you navigate customer interactions. 

  1. Experiential learning

Experience, they say, is the best teacher. Learning through experience allows you to identify and inculcate valuable life lessons from your interactions with other people. However, what you learn through those interactions depends on how you interpret them.

This means that two people can have the same experience, but learn different lessons from it. For example, if you shadow your CEO at work, you may learn the importance of leading by example. But someone else in your position may learn how to hold a productive board meeting instead. 

The value you get from your experience depends on how well you reflect on it and relate it to present/past situations.  

  1. Observational learning

Observational learning involves imitating people who have skills and traits you want to have. While this type of learning is commonly found in children (as they imitate adults), adults can also use it in certain settings. For example, you can improve your leadership qualities by imitating your boss at the office. You can also learn to be a better team player by mimicking the habits of great team players you collaborate with. 

  1. Receptive learning 

If you learn during lectures where a teacher stands at the front of the class and explains a topic while you listen, then you’re practicing receptive learning. This type of learning requires you to actively participate by asking questions and taking down notes.

An example of receptive learning is when your school or job invites experts to train your class or team in a classroom, hall, or workshop setting. 

  1. Non-associative learning 

Non-associative learning involves adapting to a new thing or situation by facing it repeatedly. This type of learning is divided into two categories: habituation and sensitization. 

Habituation means learning by habit. This means that your reaction to a stimulus (or situation) reduces the longer you’re exposed to it. For example, if you newly move into a house near a train station, you might be bothered by the sound of trains passing by at first. But the longer you live there, the sound won’t bother you as much because you’d learn to ignore it. 

Sensitization, on the other hand, means that your reaction to a stimulus (or situation) increases with repeated exposure to it. For instance, if you newly take a job as a receptionist, you may notice immediately when the office telephone rings. But as you stay longer at your job, you become more attuned to the sound of the telephone.

Benefits of Cognitive Learning

If you want to try some cognitive learning strategies, here are some benefits you stand to gain:

  1. Improved comprehension

Cognitive learning requires students to put what they learn into action. A hands-on approach to learning can improve a student’s understanding of the topic and how they apply it in real-life situations.

  1. Increased problem-solving skills 

Cognitive learning equips people with the skills they need to solve difficult problems quickly and effectively. These skills are important at any level of leadership, regardless of the setting. 

  1. Continuous learning habits

Cognitive learning promotes a love of learning by making the process of acquiring new knowledge fun and invigorating. Instead of passively listening to new information, cognitive learning allows you to apply your learning, and connect the dots between what you’re learning and what you already know.

  1. Enhanced confidence

When you get a better understanding of new topics through cognitive learning, you’ll enhance your skill set and gain more confidence in carrying out tasks. 

  1. Faster learning

As you gain new knowledge through cognitive learning, you’ll find some learning methods that work great for you. Once you’ve identified these methods, you’ll be able to learn things much faster in the future.

Cognitive Learning Strategies & How to Apply It in the Education Industry

Cognitive learning strategies are activities that improve a learner’s ability to process new information and apply or transfer that knowledge to real-life situations. The best cognitive learning strategies that creator educators can use in their online courses are:

  1. Spaced learning/repetition

Spaced learning, also known as spaced repetition, is a method of learning that involves breaking down a teaching session into three intensive learning periods with two 10-minute breaks in between. These learning periods need to intensively cover a topic for no longer than 30 minutes at a time — similar to microlessons

The difference, however, is that all three sessions will cover the exact same topic, but in three different ways. For example, the first learning period might be a video of a teacher explaining the topic. The second can be a quiz testing learners’ knowledge of the explanations in the first period. And the last period might involve applying new knowledge to solve a problem or task. 

The 10-minute breaks in between each learning period prevent an overload of information for learners. However, these breaks don’t need to be idle; you can incorporate distractor activities like memorizing words or doing a physical exercise that is not related to the topic you’re teaching.

Research shows that spaced learning is a highly effective learning method that results in excellent performance on tests and long-term memory retention.

  1. Reflection

Reflection, in learning, involves having students write down what they’ve learned during the lesson, what they didn’t understand, and how they think the teacher can help them better. 

While this learning method usually comes at the end of a classroom session, you can incorporate a reflection activity at the end of each subtopic you teach in your online course. They’ll help your students know where they’re excelling and where they’re falling short, so they can revisit the difficult topics. Students will also use that time to form connections between new information and previous knowledge.

Encourage your learners to email their reflection activities to you via email. This is important because they show you:

  • How your students are comprehending the topic
  • How effective your teaching style(s) is 
  • Which topic(s) you didn’t explain satisfactorily 

When you have this information, you’ll be able to update your course accordingly and help your students get better results. 

  1. Graphic organizers

Graphic organizers are visual diagrams that show the relationships between concepts, facts, and ideas. Common examples of graphic organizers are bar charts, pie charts, flow charts, mind maps, and spider diagrams. 

These organizers allow students to: 

  • Think deeply about a topic 
  • Visualize procedures and processes 
  • Organize their thoughts 
  • Create connections between new information and things they’ve learned previously 

You can use these cognitive tools in your course to present information and help learners improve their thinking processes. Arranging their ideas into comprehensive structures can help students develop a deeper understanding of the topic.

  1. Note-taking

Note-taking is one of the most effective ways for students to improve their active listening skills, comprehension of the topic, and memory retention. So encourage your students to take notes of salient points as they move through your course. 

Not only does writing down the meaning and application of concepts make them stick better, but note-takers end up having a resource they can revisit at any time if they forget something. 

Incorporate cognitive learning strategies in your online course

The application of Piaget’s cognitive learning theory has helped students worldwide achieve mastery of new skills and a better understanding of the world around them. This idea, when incorporated into learning, helps students maximize the use of their brains, control and understand their emotions, and tap into their lived experiences. This transforms the learning process into a fully immersive event that students come to love with time. 

If you’re an educator who wants to cultivate an unbridled yearning for new knowledge in your students, integrate the cognitive learning strategies outlined above in your online courses. Not only will these courses be more engaging, but they’ll also help your students achieve excellence in their personal and professional lives. 

Learn more about different instructional design models here!