Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Cognitivism in Practice

In education, we are guided by a number of psychological principles which attempt to define how individuals learn.  Although educators generally do not subscribe to only one learning theory, the principles gathered from a variety of resource define a teacher’s pedagogy and overall philosophy regarding student learning.   It is these resources that guide educator’s instructional practices and approach to curriculum development.  Last week I explored the relevance of behaviorism in modern education.  This week I will delve into the theories of cognitive learning and how these principles correlate to instructional strategies utilized in today’s classrooms. 

Cognitive learning theory was initially developed during the 1950’s as a direct response to the principles of behaviorism (Cherry, 201 2, p. 1).   Where behaviorism asserts that learning is acquired through conditioned responses to stimuli that can be manipulated through positive or negative reinforcement, cognitivism, maintains that the human brain is similar to a computer processor.  Information is obtained through a variety of mental processes such as thinking, memory, knowing, and problem-solving ("Cognitivism," 2012, p. 1). This information is then used to create mental schema or a conceptual framework to process and create meaning for the learner. 

The concept of schema development and mental processing found within cognitive theory, lends itself to a number of instructional strategies and technology tools. Tools such as cueing and questioning are memory devices educators can utilize to trigger information, prior knowledge and memory progress (Pitler, et al, 2007).   In order to facilitate cueing, one can utilize concept mapping or advance organizers.  These cognitive tools allow learners to represent knowledge in a graphic manner.  It is a tangible representative of the mental schema’s that is created within the brain, and allows students  to generate ideas, to design a complex structure, to communicate complex ideas to aid learning by explicitly integrating new and old knowledge,  to assess understanding or diagnose misunderstanding(Robertson et al, 2007).  Presently, there are a number of technology resources that allow students create a multitude of concept maps.  Microsoft Word has developed SmartArt inserts which provide users with a selection of concepts mapping tools.  In addition, websites such as Cacoo and Grapholite, educators and learners can create virtual maps which are easily accessible during instructional sessions and presentations.

Another common cognitive tool similar to cueing and advances organizers relates to summarization, and note taking.  Both of these tools require the learner to organize and synthesize information into a logical and systematic document (Pitler, et al, 2007).  In terms of note taking, similar technology tools utilized in concept mapping can be applied.  As stated these graphic organizers can be developed utilizing both virtual software and Microscoft Office software.  Educators can also create PowerPoint presentations with key words and phrases removed, thus requiring students to fill in the blanks. This variation on note taking allows educators to differentiate for students who may require additional support or processing time.  Summarization is the process of synthesizing key concepts and ideas into a short concise statement.  Pitler, H., Hubbard, E. R., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K, (2007) recommends u     sing rule based strategies, summary frames and reciprocal teaching strategies  in order to facilitate summarization process. Through the use of tracking tools and auto summarization tools within Microsoft Word, users are able to implement and demonstrate rule based strategies. 

Through the use of these tools, technology resources and other cognitive learning principles, educators can develop concrete and meaningful resources for their students.  Learners are able to organize, recall and employ information with greater ease and proficiency.


Cognitivism. (2012). Retrieved September 16, 2012, from

Pitler, H., Hubbard, E. R., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with      
classroom instruction that work. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Robertson, B., Elliot, L., & Robinson, D. (2007). Cognitive tools. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging   
perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved September 16, 2012, from


  1. Hi Jaime,
    How have you used some of the strategies that you mentioned in your post in the classroom? What activities have you found to be successful?


  2. Melissa:

    Thank you for your questions. I have to admit that up until recently I have been a pretty old school teacher, in the sense that I have not incorporated a great deal of technology into my classroom. Some of this was my own reluctance and lack of familiarity, but some related to my districts technology policies which blocked sites such as teacher tube and other education websites. Regardless though of whether it was virtual or paper pencil I have always incorporated advanced organizers into my lesson. Teaching Spanish and ELL you have to incorporate visual components to ensure that language does not become too much of an obstacle. Some of the organizers I use are as simple as the boot to conjugate verbs, Venn Diagrams to compare and contrast the ways in which Latin cultures celebrate traditions, or a simple flow chart to sequence events or key ideas. My students really have been successful in utilizing these materials and I have found that it allows for easy differentiation and accommodation. The biggest challenge is to not have students lose these resources throughout the lesson.

  3. Jaime,

    I like the combination of resources to enhance learning and memory in a second language. The idea of virtual tours is also important. Memory is also impacted through vision and example. Having students visit a place or have a semi first hand visit or experience changes perspective and impacts even more than any lecture or classroom activity.

  4. Jamie,

    There are so many ways that students can use technology in taking notes. Often times, content teachers require their students to take notes, study the notes, and then test over the notes. The typical student just writes the notes going down the page and then you have that one student that draws some type of diagram. With technology enhansements, we can get on the computer and use charts, graphs, smartart, and other features to create notes that will leave a lasting impression. We often here about Word, but in PowerPoint students can use the comparision layout to take notes and even add pictures.