Cognitivism: Overview & Practical Teaching Examples

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  • 0:04 What is Cognition?
  • 0:46 What Happens When We Learn?
  • 1:34 Strategies to Support…
  • 3:25 Jean Piaget's Cognitive Theory
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will learn about the cognitive learning theory and discover how to apply the work and theories of Jean Piaget and other cognitive theorists in the classroom.

What is Cognition?

Cognitive processes combine the acquisition of knowledge and skills with the ability to apply information to new situations. For example, when a student learns about addition and subtraction, he is able to transfer that knowledge when he uses it to create a budget to help him save money for a new video game. Transfer is a term that refers to drawing conclusions and solving problems using information that was learned in a different context. Thanks to theorists like Jean Piaget, we understand how the brain functions when new information is learned, and we can apply that knowledge to the classroom. Let's learn more about cognitivism.

What Happens When We Learn?

Let's start by talking about what happens when we learn. Within our brains, we have schema, which is like a large hard drive that the learner fills with folders containing everything we know. When we learn something new, we must either organize it in one of the existing folders or create a new folder. Assimilation is the process of integrating new knowledge with existing schema. However, there are times when the learner's schema does not align with new the information, which is called cognitive dissonance. This is uncomfortable and must be resolved. In this instance, the learner is forced to make accommodations to their schema in order to process new learning. Accommodation is the process of modifying existing schema to integrate new knowledge.

Strategies to Support Cognition

You may be wondering how this is going to help you in the classroom. Well, the key to building schema is making connections. We'll now take a look at some strategies for developing schema to help students process information.

  • One of these strategies is activating prior knowledge before beginning a lesson to help prepare students to connect new information. Prior knowledge can be activated using a KWL chart or an anticipation guide. KWL charts document what students know, want to know, and have learned in a learning segment. Anticipation guides ask students questions about what they are getting ready to learn, giving them the opportunity to guess the correct answer, which engages them and helps them prepare for a new learning experience.
  • Another strategy is using mind maps, a way of graphically organizing thoughts. Mind maps begin with a general idea from which related information branches out, becoming increasingly more specific.
  • Another strategy called classification uses the same concept in reverse -- students begin with something specific and increasingly put it into broader categories. For example, a teacher may show students a grasshopper and then allow students to figure out what else it is. A grasshopper may also be classified as an insect, a plant-eater, consumer, pest, prey, orthopteran, etc. The same process is used when a student sorts objects, words, and concepts. Sorting is putting specific things into a broader category.
  • Finally, you can use compare and contrast activities. These allow students to make connections by identifying similarities and differences.

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