Using Cognitive Development Psychology in the Classroom

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melissa Hurst

Melissa has a Masters in Education and a PhD in Educational Psychology. She has worked as an instructional designer at UVA SOM.

Do you ever feel bombarded with the amount of new information in a class? How do you process new information in order to create usable knowledge? These are the types of questions cognitive psychologists and teachers seek to answer. This lesson will explore and apply the major assumptions of cognitive development and psychology. Updated: 08/31/2019


Our third grade teacher, Andi, is starting a lesson on reptiles. Let's see how she's doing.

'Good morning, class! What is a reptile? No one? What is a reptile?'

Uh-oh. It looks like Andi could use our help again! She seems to have no understanding of how her students process new information. Let's give her some assistance by explaining the major assumptions of cognitive development psychology in the classroom.

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  • 0:04 Introduction
  • 0:39 Background
  • 1:27 Basic Assumptions
  • 5:56 Lesson Summary
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Cognitive development is the branch of psychology that addresses learning through information processing, reasoning and memory. Before moving forward, let's define information processing. Information processing is the theoretical perspective of psychology that focuses on the ways in which learners think about and process new information.

The study of these internal mental states provides cognitive psychologists with knowledge of how information is perceived, processed, stored and retrieved. The information gained through cognitive development research is then used in the classroom to aid teachers in their understanding of how a child learns and how instruction can be made more effective.

Basic Assumptions

Giving too much information on a topic can overwhelm students
Information Overload Reptile Example

The basic assumptions of cognitive psychology guide educational implications for the classroom. Let us help Andi understand these assumptions and apply them to her lesson.

First, the learner's cognitive processes influence the nature of what is learned. People learn new information more easily when they can relate it to something they already know. Teachers must consider what they want their students to learn and also how they can most effectively learn it. Let's see Andi put this assumption into action.

'Okay, class, we are going to learn about reptiles today. Reptiles are similar to other animals that we have learned about, but they have some different, distinguishing features, as well. Who can give me examples of a reptile?'

Good job, Andi. By telling the students that reptiles are like other animals, they can begin to place the word 'reptile' into the animal organizational scheme instead of not understanding how the new word fits into their existing knowledge.

Andi was doing so well. We need to continue to help her out! The second assumption explains that people are selective about what they process and learn. When learners are bombarded with information, such as text, pictures, sounds and distractions, they can typically only handle a small fraction of the information at one time. Therefore, being selective with what they process is important. Teachers should help their students identify the most important things to learn and help them understand why those things are important facts and concepts.

'Okay, class, reptiles have a few characteristics that make them very unique. First, they are cold-blooded, and second, they are covered in scales.'

Very good, Andi. By pointing out the most important facts, the students know what they should focus their attention on.

People are selective about what they learn when bombarded with facts or images
Processing information

Our third assumption explains that meaning is constructed by the learner, rather than being derived directly from the environment. Learners take many separate pieces of information and use them to create an understanding or interpretation of the world around them. This is referred to as construction. In order to encourage cognitive development, teachers should provide experiences that will help students put together the individual concepts in order to create a whole idea or concept.

'Class, you're doing a great job. Now, I would like for you to think about the characteristics of a reptile and draw your favorite reptile in its environment.'

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