Cognitive learning describes the network of processes that facilitate the acquisition of knowledge and understanding.
More specifically, the theory of cognitive learning combines the processes of learning through experience and the senses with studying and being taught. These cognitive functions shape the way we learn, and as we have evolved, humans have acquired new skills and capabilities. However, the brain has not physically evolved – we have simply refined how we use it. Over time, we have changed how we learn to adapt to new challenges and scenarios. As human knowledge grows and adapts, scientists are learning more about how the brain works. As a result, we are able to further advance teaching methods and learning techniques.
For instance, educators are shifting from focusing on memorization and concentrating on cognitive learning techniques that build on existing knowledge. This approach encourages students to critique and reflect on material, developing skills that make them more agile learners. Consequently, students do not only acquire new knowledge, but they also develop the skills to learn more efficiently. The cultivates more dynamic and independent working environments. Below, we look at these concepts in more detail and discuss the advantages of applying this approach in a professional context.
The different types of cognitive learning
Explicit learning vs. implicit learning
Explicit learning is the educational concept we are most familiar with. This technique is essentially studying – sitting down, reading a text or examining a diagram and trying to memorize it. People engage with explicit learning through numerous avenues, from learning times tables to searching the Internet, to remembering a programming language. However, a vast proportion of the most advanced learning requires two stages; first, we learn explicitly. After a period of time, we internalize these rules. Once a person reaches this stage, they’ll apply these rule automatically, like riding a bike.
However, experts are discovering that it is possible to bypass the explicit stage to expedite the learning process. This is known as implicit learning, where a person is encouraged to recognize patterns and trends on their own. For instance, language software like Duolingo uses this technique to encourage students to identify and adopt grammar rules more naturally. This technique is particularly useful when it comes to irregular verbs or grammatical anomalies, helping students get to grips with rules and patterns faster – even when they are not 100% consistent.
Our greatest asset as animals is our ability to work together. As such, collaborative learning is the cornerstone of human intelligence. Collaboration enhances our analytic skills and allows us to manage cognitive bias, enabling us to solve problems faster than if we worked alone. Furthermore, it also motivates us to handle our emotions and go forward with greater dynamism and ease.
Meaningful learning techniques are a foundational concept of cognitive learning. This method is when people are encouraged to build upon and enrich existing knowledge. For instance, instead of presenting someone with a mathematical problem, an educator might frame it as a real-world situation with familiar objects or scenarios. When knowledge is presented like this, students often find it far easier to apply their learning. Therefore, a crucial teaching technique is to use case studies or invite students to suggest how the lesson is applicable to daily life.
Learning through discovery
When a student discovers new knowledge, they transition from a passive consumer to an active participant. This approach allows students to acquire knowledge beyond the primary lesson, with each participant developing their skills according to their skills and capabilities. After all, the foundation of much cognitive learning scenarios is in doing not thinking. As such, most students learn more effectively through trial and error, as opposed to memorizing information.
Metacognition is learning about learning – which is what is we discuss above. The more we understand about cognition, the more we can refine our approach to education and training. However, metacognition goes one step further to consider individual learning processes – that is, the fact that we all learn differently. For instance, some people excel in collaborative scenarios, whereas others go into their shell. Equally, some people will have excellent memories, while others learn better through active, participatory techniques.
Either way, every student will have an individual learning profile. As such, an important challenge of management and training is to identify these profiles and understand how to get the best out of students. One of the most ubiquitous breakdowns of learning profiles is VARK, or styles that are categorized via sensory approaches: visual, aural, reading and writing, and kinesthetic. The basic idea is that each student will learn best when educators present information in this format. For instance, visual learners will absorb information best through an infographic. In contrast, a kinesthetic learner will pick up concepts faster through bodily movements or physical actions. However, it is important to remember that metacognition theories need to be individual as students are, so it is crucial to retain flexibility.
Understanding learning profiles and developing skills
Knowledge about learning is essential to contemporary training and educational techniques. By studying, analyzing, and experimenting with learning methods, educators and managers can seek to develop a more knowledgeable, skilled, and agile team. By embracing numerous approaches to learning, we can help individuals to think more flexibly and effectively. As such, students do not just learn with greater understanding and speed, they are also encouraged to build on existing knowledge. This enhances their critical thinking skills and practical approach.
Cognitive learning does not only facilitate training – it helps students to think critically, flexibly, and effectively. This enables students and professionals to perform tasks better, both individually and collaboratively. As a result, managers and educators can nurture better working environments where team members work together to achieve results. In contrast to repetitive, unengaging learning techniques, cognitive learning creates the potential for independent and diverse learning. Therefore, it has become one of the most popular approaches to training and education, especially in professional settings.