Cognitive View of Learning

Cognitive View of Learning

Cognition refers to thinking and the mental processes humans use to solve problems, make decisions, understand new information or experiences, and learn new things. Cognitive views of learning focus on cognitive variables affecting learning—what goes on in people’s minds before, during, and after learning. For example, when students are preparing to read a textbook chapter, they might think about what types of learning strategies they want to use to learn the important material in the chapter. They might decide to take notes and organize the material as they are reading, or to paraphrase each section as they read to see if they understood the material. Thinking about what learning strategies to use before starting to read may help students to read and learn more effectively. During the time they are reading, students can use the learning strategies they picked and check to make sure their strategies are working and that they are learning the material. After reading the text, students could think about what they did and decide if this was a good way to learn the material in this textbook. If it was, they might decide to use these methods again. If not, they may want to try something new when they read another chapter in this text. This example captures the essence of the cognitive view of learning—the most important part of learning goes on in the learner’s mind. Studying these cognitive processes and fostering their development in children and adults is a major focus of educational psychology. Cognitive views of learning have expanded both the breadth and depth of how people understand learning and the interactions among learners, teachers, and instructors; the learning environment; and learning materials. Not all students learn the same way, use the same methods, or interpret the environment identically. These individual differences or preferences for ways of thinking and learning have led educators to modify their teaching methods so that they are better able to provide support for individual students. Research on individual differences has led to the development of models of learning that focus on different types of cognitive processes and how they interact to produce meaningful learning rather than simple memorization. The focus of meaningful learning is on understanding and creating relatively long-term clusters of related knowledge and skills. Models of how students process new information and experiences have evolved over time into complex, interactive cognitive models of learning. These models focus on goal-directed learning that involves the intentional use of cognitive, metacognitive, motivational, emotional, and self-management strategies and methods to reach learning and achievement goals. Successful learners think about and set goals for what they want to achieve, which helps them target and direct their use of learning strategies and methods. Setting and thinking about goals can also enhance motivation and commitment to learning. Using cognitive learning strategies involves building bridges between what the student already knows or has experienced and what he or she is trying to learn. For example, comparing and contrasting the political and economic causes of the Vietnam war with the Iraqi war can help students understand the Iraqi war. Thinking about what they experienced when they flew on an airplane can help students understand the physics of flight.

Metacognition refers to thinking about thinking. It is a metaprocess, that is, a process that goes along with another process to support it in some way. For example, solving a math problem involves cognition. Thinking about which cognitive processes to use to solve the math problem involves metacognition. Because educational psychologists know how critical it is to use effective cognitive strategies for learning, the importance of metacognition for learning is widely recognized. Motivation and emotion also have a significant impact on learning and have strong cognitive components. Thinking about how an individual can use something he or she is learning now or in the future can increase his or her motivation for learning. Keeping a positive attitude toward learning can also help students stay on task and not procrastinate. The last area, self-management, involves planning, monitoring, regulating, and evaluating how one goes about learning. Students can benefit from using a systematic approach to learning. Basically, this involves setting a goal; selecting the cognitive learning strategies and other methods to use to learn the material; implementing the methods selected; monitoring and evaluating the learning process to make sure progress is being made toward the goal; modifying or replacing strategies if they are not contributing to goal progress; and, at the end, evaluating the entire process to see if it is reasonable to try to complete a learning task like this the same way in the future or if it would make more sense to try different strategies and methods. Using a strategic approach to learning helps students build up a set of routines— sequences of thoughts and actions—that is effective for them so that they do not have to ‘‘reinvent the wheel’’ every time they try to learn something. For example, many people have established routines for how they read a favorite magazine and do not have to think about their goal or what learning strategies to use each time they read a new issue. In the same way, students who are being strategic should not have to think about how to read a chapter of text every time they read the same textbook, or when they are taking notes in class or completing a multiplechoice test.

Building on cognitive views of learning, educational interventions have been developed to help students succeed at all levels of formal education, industrial education and training, and everyday learning. This is a key area of research and work for many educational psychologists.

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