Thursday, June 22, 2023

Techniques of Teaching: Cognitivism Learning Theory: Theoretical Overview

How do we think during the learning process? How do we absorb information, and how does our brain process that information? How do we output information when needed? Do our judgments or values about different things affect our learning? Does a disorganized and cluttered presentation of information impact our learning? How is knowledge stored, and how is it applied?

Before introducing what cognitive learning theory is, let me ask you a few questions:

1. In "Teaching Techniques," we mentioned the importance of having a strong opening for a lesson. Why is that?

2. Many professional instructors create memorable terms or structure and modularize the course content. Why is this done?

3. Why is it necessary to review previously covered material before starting a class? And why is it beneficial to recap the teaching points at the end of a class? Is there any theoretical basis or advantage to doing so?

Perhaps, through the exploration of the following cognitive theories and practical applications, you will find the answers to these questions!

Development of Cognitive Learning Theory

The pioneers of cognitive learning theory believed that learning is more than just stimulate and response. After receiving stimuli, what cognitive processes and thinking take place? Understanding how humans process, think, store, and apply information and knowledge in the learning process is the primary focus of cognitive learning theory.

German psychologist Köhler observed how chimpanzees in a laboratory used boxes and sticks to reach bananas that were initially out of their reach. The chimpanzees didn't rely on trial and error; instead, at some point in the process, they had a sudden realization of how to use tools to get the bananas. Köhler referred to this process as insight, where through observation, the solution to a problem becomes clear in the mind. Swiss psychologist Piaget applied this kind of thinking by observing how his own children learned, leading to the development of the cognitive development theory. He believed that the human mind has schemas, such as the initial schema of a dog when a child sees one for the first time, which could be something like four legs + head in front + tail + fur. However, when the child encounters a horse for the first time, they might apply the same schema and mistakenly think the horse is a large dog. Through learning and adjustment, the child will modify the existing dog schema and create a new schema for horses (a process called assimilation and accommodation). This progression from simple to complex schemas, from few to many, represents the accumulation of knowledge in humans. Piaget viewed learning as a process that involves exploration and believed that cognition develops gradually through stages, as observed in children.

Due to the focus on internal cognition in cognitive learning theory and the intangibility of "cognition," different scholars have put forward their own ideas. For example, psychologist Bruner believed that the structuring of knowledge is crucial. Learning should progress from shallow to deep, concrete to abstract, and simple to complex (spiral curriculum theory). It is important to establish a well-structured knowledge framework that allows students to discover and explore on their own (discovery learning). In addition to organizing the content and sequence of instructional materials, motivation should be stimulated during learning, and students should be encouraged to find joy in learning through inspiration. Another master in the field, Ausubel, believed in helping students understand the meaning of learning and first activating their existing foundational knowledge (referred to as prior knowledge). This approach leads to better learning outcomes when new knowledge is built upon existing knowledge or when connections are made between new and old knowledge (which is similar to Piaget's schema theory). Learning is a logical and meaningful process, which yields better learning outcomes.

As computer science began to develop, psychologist Miller analogized the human brain to a computer and proposed the information processing theory. He suggested that human memory can be divided into short-term memory (similar to a computer's RAM) and long-term memory (like a hard drive), with different units for input, processing, and output, similar to a computer. He introduced the concept of chunking in memory and proposed the "magic number 7 plus or minus 2" rule, stating that individuals can typically remember around 5 to 7 items in short-term memory. This research also influenced the telephone number system we use today (have you noticed the length of telephone numbers?).

Up to this point... How are you doing? These instructional theories are highly applicable in practical settings. Moreover, there is an important research that specifically focuses on practical teaching! We'll cover that in our next article!


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