Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cognitive Learning Theory

Cognitive theorists try to explain learning as how one thinks.  They view learning as “a mental operation that takes place when information enters through the senses, undergoes mental manipulation, is stored, and is finally used” (Lever-Duffy & McDonald, 2008, p. 16).  Unlike behaviorist, cognitivists believe that learning is complex (Lever-Duffy & McDonald, 2008).  Dr. Orey lists four components of Cognitive Learning Theory: Limited Short-term memory, Elaboration, Dual Coding Hypothesis, and Network Model of Memory.
There is a limit to what a person can process at one time – we can only process up to seven things at once (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  When a teacher has their students use technology, it allows for some of the lower level thinking skills to be eliminated by the computer so the student can focus on using high order thinking skills.  For example, using Microsoft Excel can eliminate calculation functions for the student so they can focus on interpreting the results and using that information however applicable.         
The instructional strategies of cues, questions, and advance organizers fit easily within the cognitive learning theory.  These strategies “enhance the students’ ability to retrieve, use, and organize information about a topic (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007 p. 73).  Cues and questions trigger the students’ memories and help with retrieving prior knowledge.  The advanced organizers help the students analyze, classify, and focus their learning.  With higher-level questions, these instructional strategies produce deeper learning (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007).  Long- term memory uses networks of information and uses connections to retrieve information.  Concept maps and graphic organizers are a cognitive tool that replicates the network model of memory (Laureate Education, Inc.).   Software tools such as Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, online concept maps and graphic organizers allow students to engage in higher order thinking and more advanced activities (Orey, 2001).
I use cues and questions often when beginning a new unit to activate prior knowledge.  I also use graphic organizers, like Kidspiration, to develop various concepts in science and language arts.  Graphic organizers encourage high order thinking skills.  I have never thought about using Microsoft Word as an organizer but look forward to trying it out.  I also plan to try several of the online concept maps.   
The instructional strategies of summarizing and note taking “enhances students’ ability to synthesize information and distill it into a concise new form” (Pitler, et al., 2007, p. 119).  During summarizing and note taking, students must think cognitively and analyze the information to decide what information to delete, substitute, or keep ((Pitler, et al., 2007).   Effective software tools for summarizing and note taking are Microsoft Word, Inspiration/Kidspiration, and other web resources like ThinkTank, Google Docs, wikis, and blogs.
I already use a classroom blog to keep my students’ friends and family updated on what is happening in third grade.  Students take turns to analyze what we did all week and then summarize the important activities.   This year I am going to take a step further and use blogs for journaling and story writing.  I also plan to give ThinkTank a try to see if that will help my students learn how to take notes and summarize information.  My students are also going to use a wiki to have small groups collaboratively research, analyze, and summarize information about an animal of choice.    
Multimedia is another tool that fits with the cognitive thinking of learning.  Dr. Orey talks about how images are a very powerful tool.  Information stored as images is the cognitive component of dual coding of information (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011).  Multimedia provides those images and can be used to activate prior knowledge, enhance new information, and to enhance summaries, notes, and projects.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program five: Cognitive learning theory [Video webcast] Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from
Lever-Duffy, J., & McDonald, J. (2008). Theoretical foundations (Laureate Education, Inc., custom ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Orey, M. (Ed.). (2001). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.



  1. I enjoyed reading your post. Your students and parents are lucky to have a teacher who is incorporating the use of a classroom blog. The opportunity for your students to be aware of blogs and how to post to a blog is a wonderful experience. Having your students journal on the blog will be a great way for relatives to stay involved with the students' education.

    The use of visual images by incorporating digital media is a powerful way to create the network needed for getting information into long-term memory. I want to add more videos and pictures that are relevant to help create an opportunity for elaboration.

    I too plan to use the online concept mapping tools this school year. As a geometry teacher I am always telling students to look for relationships. The idea of using a concept map to provide a visual representation of the relationships and connections seems perfect to help students work with the information and get it into long-term memory.


  2. oanne,

    Thank you for your comments! We really have a lot of fun with our classroom blog. This year I am giving my students more responsibility to keep it updated. Last year they would tell me what to type and I would type it. This year I am going to assign three students each week to be "in charge" of updating our classroom blog. Their posts still have to be approved by me before they can post them. I hope this engages them more and encourages more "responsibility."

    I can see using concept maps a lot, especially with language arts and science. I am already planning to begin my next unit in science with a concept map as a prior knowledge activity. Then we will continue to add to the map as we progress through the chapter so that the students can see the relationships and connections to what we are learning and to what we learned in the unit prior.